Found yesterday at Thailand's Center Point in Woodside, Queens. Jintara "Jin" Poonlarb is to contemporary mor lam and luk thung what Hakim is to shaabi: it's most prolific and yet distinctive practitioner. While I've yet to develop enough of an ear to immediately distinguish Jin's voice from any number of other Isan-born female vocalists, I can usually tell when it's Hakim being blasted from the morning bagel and coffee or halal lunch cart. But, then, I've been listening to Hakim for more than a dozen years and to Jin for a mere two or three.
In addition to picking up every one of her CDs that I can find, my other Jin-related mission is to someday, somehow find--online or on VCD--her music video "Arlai World Trade" ("Mourning the World Trade Center"), which, in an article titled "The Morlam, the Merrier," ThaiSunday.com described thusly: "The reigning Morlam superstar of Thailand laments the attacks of Sept. 11 while young, bare-midriffed Thai girls gyrate in front of a surging American flag."
Update: Peter Doolan found it; and it looks like someone literally just uploaded it 3 weeks ago:
My favorite New York music blogger, Peter Doolan, is leaving the city in a couple of days to spend the next year (at least) in Bangkok. He and his girlfriend and I had tentative plans Friday evening to take a trip together up to Arthur Avenue for Italian eats and Albanian CD store diving, but circumstances (mine, alas) dictated otherwise. So, tonight's post is dedicated to him, with thanks for Monrakplengthai (which I hope he keeps up while in Thailand), for all of the translation/transliteration work he's done for me here and, last but not least, for introducing me to Thiri Video where, as some of you know, is where most of the ungodly great Burmese music I've posted here over the last year or so has come from.
I've spent the last week on vacation, using the time mostly to finish up three or four writing projects I'd been asked or commissioned to do. As a reward to myself today, and partly because I was thinking of Peter's immanent departure, I took a bike ride out to Woodside for the spicy-hottest pork larb I have ever had in my life (at Thailand's Center Point) and to dig through their large selection of CDs, all of which are on sale for half price--or about $5 a piece. This one, by a Thai Country singer whose name I don't know, and a Jintara Poonlarb collection I didn't already have, were the clear winners. (I'll post Jintara a bit later. It's by far the hardest-rawqin thing by her I've ever heard.)
What struck me about the present album, in addition to this woman's rather marvelously rough-around-edges voice, is the music production/instrument choices, which at times are, frankly, eyebrow raising. Which is to say: sublime.
Despite New York's reputation as one of the most expensive cities on earth, there is not a single day of the year that you can't find at least one totally free event to partake in--everything from live performances to gallery openings to street fairs. Today, of course, was Bastille Day on 60th Street in Manhattan, which is held annually on the Sunday following the actual Bastille Day. For several long blocks along 60th Street, just below Central Park, you can listen to free live music as you wander by stalls offering French eats, groceries, knick-knacks, books and--you guessed it--music.
Last year, I picked up three French hip-hop records for $1 each, one of which I posted here. At today's fair, the Alliance Francaise Library was offering French CDs withdrawn from their library for 25 cents apiece. I happened to be at their stall the moment they opened. Fifteen seconds after they opened, I walked away with all 16 CDs they had out for sale. I knew it was a gamble; after all, these were rejects, la merde de la merde. I stuffed them all in my backpack and promptly forgot about them as I wandered around, taking in the sights and smells and sounds. Hours later, when I returned home, I plopped the first CD into my computer to have a quick listen (Arthur H's first album, Arthur H--that's an image of him from the back of the CD at the top of this post).
The opening track, "Quai No 3" (listen to sample above), had me sitting up and taking notice. I created a new playlist in iTunes, titled it "Merde," and dragged the song into it. Not that I thought every album was going to be a winner, or even have single listenable track. But I thought it would be fun--and appropriately French--to perform a kind of oulipian experiment using the Alliance Francaise Library's withdrawn CDs I had picked up this year and last.
When the second CD (Johnny Hallyday's Les Grands Success De Johnny Hallyday--second sample above) turned out to be as great as the first, I figured I'd just gotten lucky. When the third, fourth and fifth CDs all proved to each be as fabulous as the last, I almost started to cry. Really? I'd spent four lousy bucks on this merde. And all of it was kicking my ass.
In creating tonight's mix-tape I gave myself a couple of rules: (1) I could only include one track per CD and (2) I had to use EVERY CD I'd gotten at the fair, both this year and last. I admit that I broke the second rule--while I found a couple of tracks on Florent Pagny's Re:Creation that didn't make me want to do violence to myself, I also remembered how OuLiPo creators had embraced the "clinamen"--or "unpredictable swerve." In layman's terms, it means the Oulipians allowed themselves one opportunity to cheat. So I took mine.
That said, this is an effing supremely fabulous mix, especially considering the fact that I only passed on one of the CDs I picked up in the last two years at a street fair. Do note, however, that while I did stay true to the first rule of only including one song per CD, I wound up getting two CDs each by two artists Java and Dominique A, which is just as well, as they're both incredible. Also, JL Murat's Lilith is a two-CD set; I picked a song from each disc.
Obviously, this is not a representative sample of contemporary French pop. It seems skewed toward the experimental (Franck Vigroux's collaboration with Elliott Sharp!) and the music dates from as far back as the 60s to the present, with quite a bit of 90s action.
If there's anything you find yourself particularly thrilled by, let me know and I'll perhaps post a few entire CDs of the creme de la merde.
I will not open the Lester Bangs book to a random page and build another entire post on a creative misreading of one of his sentences. I will not open the Lester Bangs book to a random page and build another entire post on a creative misreading of one of his sentences. I will not--
Oh, hey; how you doing? I didn't hear you come in. Heh. Happy Bastille Day! Sit, sit. Have some tea and help yourself to a bit of the baklava; I'll be right with you ...
So! While you were away, I received a couple of very sweet, appreciative emails from folks who recently wandered into the Bodega. In addition to making me feel warm and fuzzy, they also reminded me of why I started this blog in the first place: the fact that there has been, historically, so little attention paid in our culture to music from around the world. If, by "attention" we mean "reviews, essays and books," then this is still very much the case, although music blogs like the dozens of examples I've linked to in the right-hand aisle are one medium or platform or whatever where music from all over the world is finally getting some of the international exposure that so much of it deserves.
The great Druze superstar and pop innovator Asmahan was one of the first non-western voices your Bodega proprietor ever heard; it was back in the 1990s when I discovered this CD in the stacks of the since-closed Daff and Raff Arabic Bookstore in Boston. I remember it as though it was just yesterday ... but worry not, I shan't bore you with that particular memory. Suffice to say that it was a purely random find and that, along with a handful of other random finds, also in the 1990s, completely changed my musical horizons forever.
The present CD--would you like some more tea?--was a more recent find, mid-2000s maybe, most likely at (the since-closed) Princess Music on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. I had, by that time, read Sherifa Zuhur's Asmahan's Secrets: Woman, War, and Song, one of the few (like, three? four?) books on Arabic music in English, so I had some context for her, or at least knew something about her life and influence as well as about her mysterious death, on this very day in 1944, an event that has given rise to a thousand conspiracy theories--everything from Asmahan being a Nazi spy to Oum Kalsoum having her rubbed out so she, Oum, could take over as the First Lady of Arabic Song.
Before you leave with your precious download, I should say that--and I'm being completely honest here, I swear--I had no idea that Asmahan died on July 14 when I pulled her CD down off the shelf tonight to post it and, yes, when I glanced at the Wikipedia page I linked to above and saw that date, I got a body-wide case of goosebumps. So, I don't care what your religion is, things do happen for a reason and, despite my use of the word a paragraph or two above, there is probably no such thing as "random."
For decades now it seems like the most exciting expressive culture--no matter the discipline--has been coming out of mainland China. Ai Weiwei, Gu Wenda, and Xu Bing are at the forefront of a huge explosion of visual and conceptual art that a number of phone book-thick catalogs published here and in Europe can barely keep pace with. Writers as diverse as Ma Jian, Liao Yiwu, and Mian Mian are creating some of the most raw and genuinely engaging fiction and creative non-fiction in recent memory--and making international headlines in the process. And I don't think I'm alone in thinking there is no greater, more inventive living film director than Jia Zhangke.
So it should probably be no surprise that, over the last decade or so, the PRC has produced quite literally the most thrilling rock, punk and post-punk in the world. Or that much of this music--unlike so much else on this blog--has become increasingly available through western channels.
Watch Subs perform "So Fine Emo"
For this compilation I gave myself a couple of rules: I wouldn't poach from any pre-existing, readily available compilations (although I did wind up using one song from a free comp that some of you may already have) and I would only allow myself one song from each band, no matter how hair-raisingly great their other tracks may be.
Watch Rebuilding the Rights of Statues' "TV Show (Hang the Police)"
I'll keep this post to the bare minimum, hoping the reader will listen and judge for herself, and use the opportunity to seek out more, as the interest strikes, through Amazon, iTunes and the great independent Asian-focused site Tenzenmen.com.
And, as always, I'm totally curious what you think. ...
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.