Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Various Artists | Le Hip Hop



Listen to Lady Laistee's "Un peu de respect"

Get the whole thing here.


If artists--and by "artists" I mean innovators, people who invent shit, not people who simply "make art" for a living--had the same rights as corporations, there would have been no global hip-hop movement. In fact, most popular music around the world simply wouldn't exist. And, to add insult to injury, I'd have sued your ass for that flarf experiment your teacher forced you to do last semester in Creative Writing 101 (assuming Tristan Tzara's descendants didn't beat me to it).


So, there you'd be, broke from my (or Tzara's descendants) having sued you for every last dime you'd ever earned, and you'd have, like, nothing to listen to but, I dunno, some ancient recording by whoever was able to win the lawsuit over the invention of the blues. I mean, assuming Bach's descendants didn't sue him or her over the use of the I, IV, V, I chord progression. Which is an insane assumption not to make, because of course they'd have sued. So, actually, you'd be broke and listening to Bach.

Where am I going with this? Well, if you listened to the sample above, you can probably guess, right? I mean, she may be a lady and all, but just what is Laistee really giving us here? And why is it "le" hip hop and not just straight-up hip hop? Or, for that matter, how is this anything but some French chick karaoke-rapping over the single most identifiable moment in American R&B history: Aretha Franklin completely laying claim to Otis Redding's "Respect."


Okay, but wait. Listen to it again, and then I'll tell you what I really, really, really, really love about that track. First of all, how many of you think "Otis Redding" when you think of the song "Respect"? Raise your hands. No, come on, put your hands down and stop bullshitting me. You think Aretha. We all do. I personally have heard the Otis Redding version hundreds of times (he was a superhero to me for several years in the 1980s), maybe even more times than Aretha's version, and I still think Aretha.


Why? What did she add to Otis Redding's version, anyway? An extremely expressive voice? Is Otis any less expressive? No. What Aretha added was (a) "R-e-s-p-e-c-t, find out what it means to me" and (b) "sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me ..."--in other words, a level of playground-level taunt and faddish slang that the original didn't have. (When I hear "sock it to me," I think of the single most dated comedy show to have ever run on American television: "Laugh-In.")  And yet ... it totally rawqs, even today. 


What does Lady Laistee bring to the R-e-s-p-e-c-Table? (Sorry, it was there.) Born Aline in 1972 in Guadaloupe, an Island in the Caribbean that is legally still France, Lady Laistee, also known as The Tarantula, grew up in  France métropolitaine, France's fancypants way of saying "the mainland." Her first album, Black Mama, which included a song in tribute to her murdered brother and the Paris suburbs, was released in 1999; her second, Hip Hop Therapy, which includes a slightly rougher version of "Respect," came out in 2002. The next year--when she was just 31 years old--she had a stroke and spent the next year or so rehabilitating. She released a third album, Second Souffle (Second Wind) in 2005. 


But none of that really has to do with why I love Laistee's track--although it does help me to, uh, respect her. Why do I love this track so much? Well, for one thing, every song--and I mean every single song ever written and recorded--has a shelf life. I don't mean a cultural shelf life, although that's also the case, sure. I mean with any particular listener. You know what I mean? Maybe you can spin The Beatles' "Hey Jude" like 1,273 times before you just can't hear it again. And James Brown's "Hot Pants" 987 times. And those numbers differ depending on the song and the listener. Right?


So, "Respect" has, like--it's got to have, for most listeners, one of the longest spin-lives of any song ever recorded. I couldn't even ballpark the number of times I've heard it. But, yeah, there was a point there that I reached when, like, both the Otis and the Aretha versions--I couldn't hear them anymore. I could be in a room with them playing, but I wasn't listening. I couldn't listen. Not that it was painful or I hated it now or something. I literally physically couldn't listen to it. That part of me didn't work anymore. Because, whatever it is that pop music does to our bodies (something akin to what the alien in "Alien" does, but far less destructive, if no less invasive), it's like the threads are being worn or stripped down with use. And at some point, if you listen to something that one time too many, the grooves have completely vanished.


And that, my friend, is where I was at with "Respect," before I heard Lady Laistee's version, which opens this 2004 French rap compilation I found at a Russian or Ukrainian CD store on 108 Street in Corona late last summer. 


And that, too, is why artists should never, ever behave like corporations, should never keep someone from ripping off their shit. Because, I don't care what it is that they're ripping off--a guitar lick, an idea for an art movement, a particular film-editing grammar, a genre of music--it's only through someone else's use of it that it continues, in any real way, to stay alive. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hakim | Greatest Hits



Listen to "Wala Waled"

Pick it up here.

As snow pours down into New York, thousands of people remain without power--to say nothing of those who have lost their homes altogether. (The fate of more than one of my co-workers.) So it seems almost criminal to pull down this uber-celebratory disc of polycarbonate plastic to rip for you all this evening. But, then, we do have something to celebrate tonight: The United States seems to be on the verge of slowly--key words "verge" and "slowly"--shifting a bit to the left. 

Legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Same-sex marriage in Maryland and Maine and probably Washington? (I've sort of lost track of that.) Tammy Baldwin elected as first openly gay senator in Wisconsin. More women in the house of reps now than ever before. That whole Todd Akin thing shut down by Claire McCaskill in Mizz freakin' Zouri while in Indiana, God's Will intending for Richard Mourdock's political career to get fucked. Finally, President Obama reelected, despite having pissed off just about as many liberals over the last four years as he has conservatives.

Yes, I know that close to half of the voting population voted for that other guy. And that celebrating your gay marriage by getting stoned is not legal in most states--or federally, for that matter. And that Michele Bachmann, a woman who believes that slavery was eradicated by our founding fathers, that getting vaccinated for HPV leads to mental retardation, and that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government, actually held her house seat in Minnesota. (Having lived in Minneapolis-St. Paul for six years in the 1990s, I am extremely disappointed with my former state mates.)

But, still. As even conservative poll aggregation enthusiast Dick "I Goofed!" Morris seems to be realizing, the United States is a multi-culture, not a mono-culture. And we sort of showed that, kinda sorta, via last night's elections. 

So, in celebration: Could there be anything more life-affirming, more get-you-up-off-your-ass-and-dancin', than Hakim? I found this best-of album at the Nile Deli on Steinway Street a couple of days after Sandy had passed and picked it up to lift my spirits. A few days after that, I offer it to you, for yours.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

22Cats | 10 Years of 22Cats



Listen to "Grunge Love"

Get it all here.

It's too early for a Best of 2012 post, but not too early, I hope, to begin upping some of my favorite records of the year. There are 10 albums at the top of my list, one of which is this freebie from one of Hong Kong's most beloved alt bands, 22Cats--the others will follow soon.

I'm not going to mince words: I've already checked out Pitchfork and Spin's 2012 Best Ofs, and I have to say, I don't care how hard you foist Grizzly Bears, Frank Ocean, Swans and other pretentious & immediately forgettable U.S./U.K. crap in my face, you're never, not in a million billion years, ever going to convince me that killing myself in the most horrifically painful way imaginable is not the more desirable alternative to resigning myself to living in a world where people honestly consider it listenable.

Fortunately, I don't have to resign myself to living in that world. I can live right here in the real world, where albums like this one exist. And, guess what? You can live there, too.

22Cats don't have so much as an English-language Wikipedia page, but they've been rocking, if this compilation is any indication, for the last decade--and rocking harder than your average cats. I got this free download through a link on Facebook posted by the band's label, Harbour Records. I guess the idea is that, once you listen to this comp, you'll want to buy their actual albums. Considering that: (a) no one in the mainstream music media has nor ever will write about them; and (b) they will not likely therefore ever be asked (and paid) to play anywhere in the U.S., it's the only way you're ever going to hear more by them.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Yui Yatyoe | Cha Rot Mai Nia



Listen to "สองแสนแหวนวง"

Get it all here.

In his 1995 book Ocean of Sound, David Toop quotes Jimi Hendrix talking to Melody Maker during the last year of his life on the possibilities of expanded musical textures:

"I don't mean three harps and fourteen violins ... I mean a big band full of competent musicians I can conduct and write for. And with the music we will paint pictures of earth and space, so that the listener can be taken somewhere." 

Toop then describes how two of Hendrix's posthumous records, Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning, were assembled after his death, basically using a cut-and-paste sort of method to pull together unfinished tracks, speeding up or slowing down things to match keys and adding new parts where, say, a guitar track abruptly ended with no clue as to where it might have gone.

Reading this passage, one comes away with a sense of the real power of the studio, one that almost seems to contradict how the studio is so often used today, especially by the southeast Asian music industry. 

What we have here tonight is an example of what music blogger and Thai pop music cataloger Peter Doolan calls "guitar & keyboard workstation-driven luk thung." Listening to the sample above, it's difficult to tell what's "live" and what's "canned": the drums, for instance, clearly falling into the latter category; the guitar, voice and possibly the horns falling into the former. "Workstation-driven" seems like the perfect descriptor: these albums are cranked out, one after the other--this is, in fact, CD number 16 (Peter posted number 3 from what I believe is this same series on his great Monrakplengthai blog, here). God only knows how many total CDs there are.

But does this factory-output approach to pop music make it any less fabulous than something more "authentic"? Does it, in fact, make this music any less "authentic"? 

I would say no. The studio is a factory, no matter who's in it or how it's being used; I was blown away watching David Byrne and St. Vincent perform live on the Colbert Report the other night, so much so that I immediately went and downloaded the album, Love This Giant, that they were promoting. And it just didn't have the same oomph as their live performance. It sounded canned. And, in that case, it wasn't because they were substituting a drum machine for drums, or a synthesizer for horns. It just felt "cold" in comparison to the live performance.

I've always argued that there is nothing "authentic" about popular music. That authenticity is not a quality or attribute in any way relevant to the art form. But there is one way in which popular music can be said to be authentic, for, in order to become truly popular, it must offer an "authentic" reflection, simultaneously, of the dreams and real lives of those who consume it--the soundscape version of its listeners' life- and dreamscape. 

Thanks to the aforementioned Peter Doolan for transliterating this album and identifying the singer. The title, by the way, translates as "I Will Survive," at least according to Google's translation feature ...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Kazim al Saher | Fi Madrasat al Hob



Listen to "Sallami"

Get it all here.

After a bike ride this afternoon from Astoria to Woodside and back, I switched on the news, not having seen it in a couple of days. The footage was sobering, to say the least. Miles and miles of destroyed beaches, property, downed trees, flooding--and image after image of someone surveying their former house or neighborhood and sobbing. The destruction and cost, including loss of life, of Hurricane Sandy is enormous and really almost unimaginable. 

But then I got to thinking. This is the sort of destruction, on a much grander scale, that this country inflicted on Iraq from 2003 through the end of last year. In fact, the cost of that invasion and occupation, in terms of dollars and, especially, in terms of human life and property, utterly dwarfs what we're living through and/or watching on the news right now. 

Kazem al Saher, born in Mosul, Iraq, in the late 1950s, is one of the greatest composers in Arabic music history, even if not everything he does will appeal to everyone. Not just because his work embodies the idea of art in the era of globalization, but because so much of what he does is both innovative and devastatingly expressive. Take, for example, the sample track above. 

Currently living in Cairo, Egypt, al Saher left Iraq for Jordan in 1991 during the first Gulf War. From there he moved to Lebanon before finally settling in the City of a Thousand Minarets. Released in 1997, Fi Madrasat al Hob ("In the School of Love") was his 10th album. (Read more about al Saher and get his 9th album here.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Olympians | The 45s 1966-1971



Listen to "One More Time"


Listen to "Hopeless Endless Way"


Listen to "Για Ποια Αιτία"

Get it all here.


So, contrary to my rather cavalier pre-Sandy post last Sunday, here I am about to talk about the storm. Not to reiterate on the enormous damage it has caused up and down the east coast, but to turn your attention to the magazine I've been writing for since this summer, Open City. A number of writers associated with that online journal were asked yesterday to report on the storm's impact on New York's immigrant cultures by editor Kai Ma, who is a personal hero of mine for having started a magazine that focuses on immigrant culture in New York City in the first place. 


Now Kai is assembling and editing these reports from around the New York City area on the special impact the storm has had on these immigrants who, frankly, make this city (as well as this humble music blog) what it is. The first report, from Sukjong Hong, just went up today; you can read it here

My neighborhood, Astoria, didn't fare as poorly as others, though there is at least one tree downed on every other block. (Some 10,000 trees reportedly toppled in Queens alone.) We were lucky. Very, very lucky.

Today, while one of my co-workers relocated to Brooklyn with her family from their powerless, waterless apartment on the easternmost edge of Manhattan's Chinatown, I had the relative luxury of wandering around Astoria, surveying pockets of damage here and there, and marveling at the number of businesses--pretty much all of them--that have reopened in Sandy's wake. (Truth be told, most reopened yesterday.) Including one of my go-to immigrant-run stores: GMV, or Greek Music & Video Inc. (25-50 31st Street, Astoria, NY 11102).

As you'll remember, back in February I found this fabulous CD by surf-garage-psych band The Olympians at GMV; today, I returned to the same spot in the stacks and discovered the subject of today's post: A collection assembled in 1996 of the band's earliest 45 records.

The CD includes original songs and covers in both English and Greek (including a Greek version of the Kinks' "Lola") spanning the first five years of the band's existence. It's a rock-solid, life-affirming collection that I'm going to guess many of you, regular visitors and those who may have stepped in to the Bodega for the first time today, will enjoy.

And for everyone whose lives were affected by this truly unprecedented storm, our thoughts are with you ...