Saturday, March 31, 2012

Misora Hibari | As the Flow of the River

Listen to "悲しき口笛"

Listen to "お祭りマンボ"

Get the two-disc collection here.

Japanese Enka Super-Diva Misora Hibari was arguably the most famous Japanese singer of all time--remarkable not just because Misora may have been first gen (some believe her parents held Korean passports), but because she started off, a la Shirley Temple, as a child star. (Not that she ever sounded like one; those recordings above, at least one of which was recorded for the film illustrated by the poster to the right, sound like no child I've ever heard.)

Wikipedia--to the extent one wishes to fully trust it--has about all there is in English on the superstar, a fact that completely boggles the mind and sort of, frankly, saddens me. Misora sold 68 million records in her lifetime, was a star on the order of Oum Kalsoum or Maria Callas, legendary and huge, a defining voice for generations of Japanese. 

 Here's a few paragraphs about her from the aforementioned Wikipedia entry: "Misora was born Kazue Katō in Isogo-ku, Yokohama, Japan. Her father was Masukichi Katō, a fishmonger, and her mother Kimie Katō , a housewife. Misora displayed musical talent from an early age after singing for her father at a World War II send-off party in 1943. He invested a small fortune taken from the family's savings to begin a musical career for his daughter. In 1945 she debuted at a concert hall in Yokohama, at the age of eight. At the same time, she changed her last name, Katō, to Misora (lit. 'beautiful sky'), at the suggestion of her mother. A year later, she appeared on a NHK broadcast, and impressed the Japanese composer Masao Koga with her singing ability. He considered her to be a prodigy with the courage, understanding, and emotional maturity of an adult. In the following two years, she became an accomplished singer and was touring notable concert halls to sold-out crowds.

"Her recording career began in 1949 at the age of twelve, when she changed her stage name to Hibari Misora, which means 'lark in the beautiful sky,' and starred in the film Nodojiman-kyô jidai. The film gained her nationwide recognition. She recorded her first single Kappa Boogie-Woogie for Columbia Records later that year. It became a commercial hit, selling more than 450,000 copies. She subsequently recorded "Kanashiki kuchibue", which was featured on a radio program and was a national hit. As an actress, she starred in around 160 movies from 1949 until 1971, and won numerous awards. Her performance in Tokyo Kid (1950), in which she played a street orphan, made her symbolic of both the hardship and the national optimism of post-World War II Japan.

"On January 13, 1957, Misora was attacked with hydrochloric acid, and injured in Asakusa International Theater. The criminal was an overly enthusiastic fan of hers. Fortunately, the wound did not remain in her face. In 1962, Misora married actor Akira Kobayashi, though the marriage ended in divorce only two years later, in 1964.

"In April 1987, on the way to a performance in Fukuoka, Misora suddenly collapsed. Rushed to hospital, she was diagnosed with avascular necrosis brought on by chronic hepatitis. She was confined to a hospital in Fukuoka, and eventually showed signs of recovery in August. She commenced recording a new song in October, and in April of 1988 performed at a concert at the Tokyo Dome. Her triumph was short-lived. Misora died on June 24, 1989 from pneumonia at the age of 52, at a hospital in Tokyo. Her death was widely mourned throughout Japan.

"Beginning in 1990, television and radio stations annually play her song 'Kawa no Nagare no Yō ni' on her birthdate to show respect. In a national poll by NHK in 1997, the song was voted the greatest Japanese song of all time by more than 10 million people."

I found the 2-disc CD linked to above at the Misora Hibara Museum in Kyoto in the summer of 2004 while on what was essentially my soon-to-be ex-wife and my honeymoon. (While it wasn't my idea to visit the museum, it wasn't like I had to actually be dragged there, either.) Misora even made a guest appearance in the first issue of my comic book series, Elsewhere (she's in the panel on the bottom left of the page below):

If you've never heard of Misora Hibari before, you're really in for a treat today. Enjoy!

Friday, March 30, 2012

DAM | Dedication

While we seem to be on this rap kick, here's an album from 2006 that seems to be completely out of print now; though Amazon lists an MP3 version, it's (at least currently) "unavailable." Fitting, at least symbolically, I suppose, considering that DAM is a Palestinian rap group who rap primarily about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As Tamer Nafar explains in an interview on Democracy Now here, "dam" means "eternity" in Arabic and "blood" in Hebrew. "So it’s eternal blood," he explains, "like we will stay here forever."

Here's a comic I drew back in 2005 in response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, using text collaged from Iraeli poet Yehuda Amichai and Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:

The imagery, as you've probably figured out, is a kind of swirling-together entanglement of Arabic and Hebrew script, an idea my soon-to-be ex-wife suggested I use. (A rather brilliant idea that, at first, I balked at, worrying it would be beyond my skills to render legibly.)

Little has changed since I drew that comic, since DAM released this, their first CD.

Listen to "Da Dam"

Get it all here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rap Around the World | A Bodega Pop mix

Listen to "Phnom Penh Hip Hop" by The Khmer Rap Boyz (Cambodia)

Listen to "Haiti" by Elza Soares (Brazil)

Listen to "Eat Around" by Missile Scoot Girl (Japan)

Listen to "Γουστάρει Η Παλαβή" by Εισβολέας (Greece)

Listen to "DK Anthem" by Divided Kingdom Republic (Zimbabwe)

Get the 24-song mix here.

As anyone who has spent a bit of time in the Bodega knows, this here shop keep has a particular predilection for international rap and hip-hop--the further the language from English, the better. That said, rap & hip-hop from around the world comprise a small percentage of the CDs in my collection, maybe 1%, if that. But you wouldn't know it, looking at the BP tag cloud.

I'm not exactly picky when it comes to pop; though I suppose I do have some standards. But, while there is certainly a goodly amount of bad hip-hop out there--mostly stuff that simply mimics rap in the USA--there are people in all corners of the world who, picking up cues from Western examples, take it somewhere else, occasionally somewhere totally unexpected. 

I'm not going to sit here this morning and tell you that every hip-hop artist in this mix is some sort of insane genius, turning rap & hip-hop up to 11. But some of them are. And those that aren't, at least among what I've tried to include here, are at bare minimum making the genre their own.

If you visit here often and have partaken of the dozen or so hip-hop related CDs I've posted over the last couple of years, fear not: I tried really, really, really extra-special hard not to duplicate, whenever possible. So there's Fama in here, but not the Fama you can get elsewhere on this site. I didn't actually count, but I think maybe 4 or 5 songs in this mix can be found in other full CDs or mixes on this blog.

I also didn't just rip stuff from YouTube videos, although--Jesus God Almighty, it was certainly tempting. Everything here is from my own personal CD collection, with a few things I downloaded myself from other sites that I wasn't able to find in CD anywhere (e.g., the Khmer Rap Boyz).

Okay, I'm going to shut up now and let you get to this. Would love to know what you think. It's my personal favorite Bodega Pop mix, and--at some point in the future, assuming people like this--I'll probably put together another (or two, or three).

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fama | Poon o'da Moon

I was a bit under the weather last week, thus the lack of posting until this morning. As often happens when I take a bit of time off, I received a few comments on older posts, as returning visitors, jonesin' for new product and clearly frustrated by my temporary slothful absence, take digging into their own hands and raid the archives. One of the comments I was most happy to find this week was from regular visitor Craftypants Carol, who wrote an enthusiastic response to a post of Fama's "Wind and Water Rising". Apparently, she loved the album so much, she wrote about Fama on her own blog.

Because Carol's a regular here and because she's fallen so hard for Fama and because, unrepentant completist that I am, I happen to have everything this band has ever put out, I'm posting their now-a-decade-old, long-out-of-print super-rare first album, Poon (or Poem) o'da Moon, from 2002.

Carol and I are hardly Fama's only fans: They were named Most Popular Band in the Jade Solid Gold Best Ten Music Awards Presentation for 2008. How could you not love a Hong Kong hip-hop band who, after Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States, temporarily changed their name to O'Fama and released an album called Yes Change We Can, complete with packaging that included Hope posters of both members CKwan and 6Wing and a bonus booklet designed to look like a passport?

Listen to the title song

Get it all here.

Safiye Ayla | Yanik Ömer

Born in Istanbul in 1907, Safiye Ayla was one of the most famous classical Turkish music singers, clocking in more than 500 recordings before she passed away in 1998. Known for her range, her pronunciation (yes) and for having been influenced to some degree by western singers, she was reportedly a favorite of secularist/reformist Turkish National Movement leader and (ultimately) president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

I found this treasure at one of my favorite places in Brooklyn: Uludag Video (1922 Avenue W, near Ocean Avenue). The last time I visited, which was two-three years ago, they had decided to discontinue importing CDs, which weren't making enough money for them, to concentrate on their bread and butter: Turkish movies on DVD.

Listen to "Aşkından Sen Nasıl Bıktın"

Get the whole album in 256 glorious kbps here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Okay, I can't even contain my excitement ... I've discovered the root of all Hong Kong indie rock, essentially the band that more-or-less functions as the Velvet Underground of the Special Administrative Region.

Over the last month or so I've been compiling songs for a mix that will concentrate on covers; specifically songs covered by people of a different race, gender, nationality and/or ethnicity than the people who wrote or first popularized the song. While putting this set together (which I'll upload in the coming weeks), I noticed that the Hong Kong indie/twee pop band Marshmallow Kisses had a song: "I always love the one who doesn't love me (AMK cover)."

AMK cover? I had no idea what that could refer to, but after a bit of hunting around, I figured it out: The band was Adam Met Karl (Adam for Adam Smith; Karl for Karl Marx--in other words, capitalism meets communism), better known as AMK.

The band formed in 1989, coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally) the same year that mainland rock pioneer Cuī Jiàn released his first successful album, "Rock'n'Roll on the New Long March."

According to Rock in China, AMK was active from '89 until 1996, the year before the Brits transferred ownership of Hong Kong to China, and:

"Their songs featured upbeat melodies and fast rhythms, with lyrics inspired from political issues and ordinary city life in Hong Kong often presented in a humorous and satirical way.

"One of their most notable achievements was their theme song for a television programme, 'One Person, Two Roles' (一人分飾兩角), which was recorded by Faye Wong in 1995 on an EP with the same title.

"In 2009, Harbour Records released their complete and authorized anthology [AMK History] with a bonus CD 'Rare AMK' and a bonus music video and live performance DVD '真人表演.'"

Digging around on YouTube, I discovered that someone--a mere month ago--uploaded each of the nine songs on that aforementioned Rare AMK CD. As you've probably guessed, I then converted the vids to high-quality MP3s and ... voila! I'm now sharing it here on Bodega Pop.

From what I can gather via the little written in English about AMK online, the band's entire catalog had been out of print for years until the AMK History compilation, though the band has had an obvious influence on nearly every truly fantastic indie HK act, from The Pancakes to My Little Airport to 22Cats to PixelToy to at17 to Marshmallow Kisses.

Though AMK clearly has its own roots in underground American bands like the Velvet Underground (and every band the VU can be said to have given birth to), their sound is completely their own ... and absolutely to-die-for fabulous.

Listen to "請讓我回家"

Listen to "I always love the one who doesn't love me"

Listen to "失真醉"

Get it here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Saeko Suzuki | The Law of the Green

A few days after posting this album by Majida El Roumi, where I wrote a bit about the early days of CDs, I received an email from a regular visitor in Japan, Bill Sakovich, who writes about his life in the archipelagos at Ampontan. My off-the-cuff musings prompted Bill to remember his own early experiences with music burned into discs of polycarbonate plastic:

"Your recent post on the advent of CDs made me think of my first purchases. It was in '86, here in Japan. Bought a player and two discs. One was a Thelonius Monk trio disc, and the other was The Law of the Green by Suzuki Saeko.

"Suzuki was trained as a pianist, got involved with all the keyboards (including the Fairlight when that was big in the 80s) and also played drums. In fact, she was the drummer in the first band that Sakamoto Ryuichi formed, before he became famous in YMO and as a solo artist. She composed all her music, also sang.

"In this video, she starts on the marimba and switches to the drums at 4:30. The Zappa influence is apparent. I saw this tour, and this was the opening number:

"The Law of the Green was released to coincide with the tour, though this song was not on the disc. This one was, however:

"I still have The Law of the Green. It is long out of print (though another one or two of her discs have been reissued). Considering its unavailability either in Japan or overseas, and the amount of music you've uploaded that I've taken advantage of, if you're interested ..."

I wrote Bill back and said that I'd be interested, but would mostly be interested if he'd allow me to publish his back story. Bill agreed and sent along a bit more information as well:

"She started out on classical piano when young and got interested in the drums in her second year of high school. Went to a junior college for the arts. Started playing around Tokyo in other people's bands or backing singers, began attracting attention, and then started working as a studio musician.

"From the late 70s to the late 80s in Tokyo there was a group of musicians making some unique music, of whom the three members of YMO were the most prominent. (Sakamoto and Hosono Haruomi of those three in particular.) They were not garage bands, but people with musical training, often classical, who worked in the general territory of modern pop music, but got experimental. Another one in that circle was Tachibana Hajime, who did some unique things of his own. Suzuki played in both Sakamoto's band and Tachibana's band roughly at the same time.

"She went solo and released her first disc in 83. That was where Philadelphia appeared. The second was in 84, which I had on cassette, but now can't seem to find. It was called Science and Mystery, but the official title was in some Scandinavian language. This was rereleased on CD five years ago and is still available on Amazon Japan. The Law of the Green was the third, and that came out in 85. In 86 she released a four tune 12" vinyl record, which I bought and taped. I still have the tape. In 87 she released her last solo album, which I didn't know about and never heard, but I got married that year and was otherwise occupied.

"She continued to work in support of other people's projects but tapered off in the early 90s because she had children (She's married to a guy in a band called the Moonriders, which are not as interesting.) She started getting back into things in the early 2000s, probably because her children were getting older, and is still semi-active.

"Reading her Japanese Wikipedia entry, she also did a movie soundtrack long ago that won an award, and three soundtracks in a manga series in the 2000s. She has also had her own radio shows as a DJ on two or three occasions, and wrote a column for a movie magazine.

"Her 55th birthday was Wednesday March 14th.

"Here is the instant ramen commercial I told you about.

"That's her singing, and she also did the music. (She did a few commercial jingles, too.) She's saying Sugu Oishii, Sugoku Oishii (Delicious right away, really delicious)."

Get it here.

Thanks, Bill!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kazem Al Saher | Fi Madrsat Al Hob

I'm not sure how many pop artists I could in good conscience call a "musical genius," but if I had to pick just one artist working today, it'd be Iraqi superstar, Kazem Al Saher. Unlike most middle-eastern Arabic singers, he composes everything himself; his work is wide-ranging, from western-influenced to Arabic classical. If you've already plucked Aghsilly Bilbard from Bodega Pop's shelves, you're already hip to the soulfulness of this man's voice and the musical magic he makes. If you haven't, you're in for an incredible treat.

I found Fi Madrsat Al Hob this weekend at the Nile Deli on Steinway Street, one of the last remaining places to find Arabic music in the five boroughs. It is, without question, one of his absolute finest recordings. Don't believe me? That's between you and the limits of my descriptive language and your imagination. Meanwhile, take a chance and give this gem a listen.

Listen to "Sallami" from this CD

Get it all here.

Read more about him here.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Majida El Roumi | Live Recording 1982

I had it in my head to post a Faiza Ahmed CD this weekend that I've been wanting to share with y'all for a while; then, as luck would have it, I had a sudden hankering today for an almond-paste croissant & Americano at this relatively new "French" (actually Lebanese or Egyptian) cafe on Steinway Street, about 15-20 minutes on foot from my apartment. It would of course be pointless to walk all the way down to Steinway when it's this cold just for coffee and a croissant; but less pointless if one were to ad in a quick stop at the Nile Grocery more-or-less across the street from the cafe.

For me, a "quick stop" anywhere that they are selling CDs is no less than half an hour; and that's about what I spent, combing their music racks, until I'd scoped out every inch of product and my hands were sticky with grime. Some of these CDs have been there a while, including tonight's freshly plucked featured offering: Majida El Roumi's second CD, recorded when she was 26 (her first--Wadaa--had been released five years earlier, when she was merely 21).

For some weird reason, at some point last week I had a long, sort of meandering conversation with a co-worker at my day job about the origin of CDs. She was convinced that they hadn't really come into existence until the early 90s; I knew this wasn't the case, as I remember a guy at the SF State University dorms who had a CD player, and I lived in the dorms in the early 80s. It is true, though, that CDs didn't really begin to replace records and cassettes until the 90s--I personally didn't have a CD player until at least 1995 or later, and I don't think I bought any CDs until 1996. (The player was a combination CD and cassette player.)

Why am I telling you this? I mean, other than the fact that I'm obsessed with anything having to do with music burned into discs of polycarbonate plastic. Well, part of it is that tonight's CD, recorded in 1982, but published (in CD form, anyway) in 1989, is one of the physically oldest CDs that I own. Probably I have a few Bollywood CDs from a bit earlier--say, 87 or 88--but there isn't much I've got that pre-dates the 90s. That's not terribly remarkable, except for the very real possibility that we may not be seeing CDs much after this year or next ... at least a couple of friends of mine are convinced that they're on their way out, as early (according to one friend) as 2013.

Though I never intended it as such when I launched it in early 2010, this blog has kind of become a weird or random sort of record of vanishing New York. Almost when I began the blog, the bodegas I had been frequenting since moving here in 1997 began, one by one, to disappear. For instance, though I feel it in my bones that there must be other Arabic music places out there, the Nile Grocery is the only remaining place in the five boroughs that I personally know of that still sells Arabic CDs. The half dozen or so bodegas and media shops in Brooklyn I used to frequent--most in Bay Ridge--closed three or more years ago.

Will the Internet wind up being the only place in the next two or three years where you'll be able to get any of this music? Unfortunately, it's looking very much like that will indeed be the case.

Until then, I'll continue to haunt the few bodegas and mom & pop run media stores here and elsewhere I find, so long as they're still around ... and, of course, I'll share the best of my booty with you. (That sounds like a phenomenally bad line from a disco song; forgive me.)

Majida El Roumi was born to Melkite Greek Catholic parents in Kfarshima, Lebanon. She is credited as being one of the first singers to combine western and Arabic classical music. This rather wonderful live CD was her second album.

Listen to the second track from this CD.

Get it all here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Vanishing Point

A piece I wrote about the Megaupload shut-down, the death of Holy Warbles and the state of music blogs in a post-MU world, has just been published in the Brooklyn Rail, here.

Will not likely be posting anything this weekend or most of next week, but I'll be back soon enough with more thrills of a musical nature what have been burned into discs of polycarbonate plastic.

Until then, raid the archives!