Listen to Asala's thrilling performance of "Khalleek Hena" Stay for the whole concert.
This blog just passed the half-a-million page views threshold. In gratitude, here is one of the most incredible recent live recordings I have on CD, by Syrian superstar Asala Nasri. I just wrote a whole piece about the little Syrian bodega on Fifth Avenue in South Slope Brooklyn where I first discovered her music--I'll let you know when it posts. (It was commissioned by another site.) Meanwhile, thanks again, everyone; and, really, don't miss this album.
Listen to the stunning second track of this wonderful album Pluck the whole thing from "the cloud" or whatever, here.
This is an older CD I found at Thiri Video in Elmhurst that I hadn't gotten around to posting yet. There are a lot of Burmese CDs I need to either reup or post in the first place -- sounds like an admirable goal here at the Bodega for the first few weeks in September, eh? I've got a lot of news to share with you, but will do that a bit later. It's all good. (Not as good as this record, though.)
Listen to the mind-blowing last track Reupped by reader request in 320 HFS-level KBPS, here. [Originally posted in May 2010.] On July 4 of 2009, my [now ex-]wife and I spent the day wandering around Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush in Brooklyn, a tad southish of downtown, an area we almost never get to in the normal course of our daily lives. At one point, we stopped in at an Arabic-run phone card and doo-dad store on Court Street, a couple of doors down from Rashid Music, which is perhaps the oldest, and certainly one of the greatest Arabic music stores in the country. I'm pretty sure that this especially unflattering photograph of me: was taken in this very phone card and doo-dad shop. Note the hookahs to my right. But, far more importantly, note all of the CDs in glass cases and cassettes against the wall. You're seeing less than 1/3rd of the bounty this place held. Rashid may have the reputation--and the staying power--but the doo-dad place sure did have an impressive heap o' steamin' mess o' music on your choice of polyester film with magnetic coating or polycarbonate plastic. As I've claimed a number of times on this blog, there are really two kinds of store keeps: (a) those who are puzzled but absolutely thrilled to see people beyond their usual customers interested in "their" music; and (b) those who view such intruders as though they were Vikings, there to do what Vikings are generally known, and not terribly much adored, for doing. The woman in the back of the phone card and doo-dad place was, happily, one of the friendliest shop keeps I've ever met. She wanted to know what we were doing for Independence Day--not, mind you, July 4, but the next day, July 5, Algerian Independence Day. She, as an Algerian immigrant, had a number of ideas of how we might want to spend AI Day in America, all of them involving cutting out coupons for discounted "whole lamb" from the Arabic newspaper she brought forth and proceeded to spread out on the glass casing housing the CDs. She thought it was nothing short of crucial for us to buy a lamb--"they are so cheap for you if you buy the whole thing at one time"--and invite all of our friends out to whatever park we, as White People, clearly lived within walking distance of. (Prospect Park, duh.) Where, presumably, we'd find a grill big enough to accommodate a whole, dead, skinned lamb. Our conversation, like a fat summer fly, hovered around lambs and elaborate Independence Day picnics for a solid fifteen minutes, and then I started getting--I'll just fess up to it--a bit impatient, frankly. I mean, we were lying, Nada and I; we were not actually going to celebrate Algerian Independence Day, just as we had not actually celebrated U.S. Independence Day. And, even if we were, it was pretty to super doubtful that we would do so in a way that might involve the purchase of a whole, mid-sized mammal--however cheap. I tried to steer the conversation over into the realm of music. We had just seen a film starring Abdel Halim Hafez, and one scene in particular, with Hafez in a boat on the Nile with some friends, singing to the object of Hafez's romantic obsession, had been much on our mind. The song was terrific and haunting. We could almost hum it for her. Did she know this movie or song and whether or not the song might be on CD somewhere in the shop? No, she was Algerian, she reminded us, BUT she had a friend who was Egyptian who knew everything about the movies. Everything! She called her. Within 6 minutes she had our film and song titles (both of which I've since forgotten) and, after flipping through a series of CDs, determined they didn't have the song anywhere in the store. Did we want the coupon for the lamb? I asked her to recommend a more-or-less recent CD that she really, really, really loved. She stared at me blankly for a few moments, then suddenly smiled. "Aha!" she said, disappearing beneath the horizon line of the CD case for a bit, then reappearing with the CD you see above. "Have you heard Asala Yousef?" she asked. I flitted through my memory banks. Asalah Nasri, yes. Yousef? No. "Who is she?" I asked. And here, things get a bit hazy. I'm almost positive that she said that Asala Yousef was from her home country, Algeria. Like, 89% so. But I'm probably totally wrong about that, as I've found nothing online to suggest this is the case. There's almost nothing about Asala Yousef online--just links to MP3s and YouTube videos. In one list of famous Druze singers, she's included as a Syrian. In the comments of several YouTube videos, people are claiming she's either Palestinian or Israeli--mostly Israeli. There is at least one YouTube video of her where the person who uploaded it is writing in Hebrew as opposed to Arabic. And, really, that's extremely rare. So it's possible she is Israeli--though she's obviously singing in Arabic. Which is less rare, but still not super common.
Asala Yousef vid, uploaded by Hebrew speaker
Asala Yousef vid, uploaded by Arabic speaker So, I'm at a loss. Who is Asala Yousef and where does she come from? The music sounds Lebanese to me. Anyone out there know? [Update: Someone out there did know and left the answer in the comments.] Meanwhile, she's got an incredibly powerful voice and you really should be downloading this shit, since it's free & all and double-since the phone card and doo-dad place where I bought this? Not there anymore.
Listen to "تركنى من جروحى" Reupped by reader request, here. This album is so incredibly kick-ass that it took me a couple of days to decide which song to share with you as an example. I chose this one because, given the simplicity of the music, Zeina's voice really stands out. I know nothing about Zeina other than that she's Lebanese and that the other record I have by her, Delila, is equally stunning. I found this one in a phone card and miscellany place on Court Street in Brooklyn about a block north of Rashid's. Both places have since closed. There are now only two places that I know of where I can get Arabic music in New York, and both are in my neighborhood. Last week, at Alfrha (25-23 Steinway Street), when I asked if they had Rola Saad's new album, the guy behind the counter promised to order it for me and that I could come pick it up this weekend. We'll see how that goes. If well, I'll be asking if he can order some more Zeina. Can you tell I'm exhausted after a week of work and don't really have it in me to write anything interesting? Seriously, I'm going to post this and crawl into bed. Check in this weekend, when I'm back up and running: I've got a special surprise in the works for you ...
First posted in April 2010, days after I launched this blog. It's no exaggeration to say that this is precisely the sort of thing I opened Bodega Pop's doors to share with the larger world.
I had no idea what this was when I posted it. A poet friend of mine in Singapore hipped me to the artist's identity thusly: "Joey Boy is superstar." I got to work searching YouTube.
as well as Filetram and other file-sharing search engines. Over time, I put together Joey Boy's entire catalog. Which I listened to obsessively.
Having done that, I feel totally comfortable grabbing everyone who walks into the Bodega by the sleeve, sitting each of you down in one of my metal folding "guest" chairs and yammering breathlessly about JB's pop genius.
That said, I totally don't have time to do that, today. I'm due up in Saratoga Springs to oversee a print job for my work and I've been commissioned to write a piece about New York, bodegas and international music ... by August 22nd.
Given that, here's a short bio, followed by what I originally wrote about this CD three years ago:
Born Apisit Opsasaimlikit in 1975, Joey Boy began his career in the 1990s, recording his first hit, "Fun, Fun, Fun" (see video above) with Canadian reggae artist, Snow, in 1995.
Found last year 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 Thailand's Joey Boy, 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?
But why is that woman in the sunglasses on the cover pointing to her nose like that?
Reupped in 360kbps here. [Originally posted in April 2010.] 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. 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.
[Originally posted in April 2010.] At some point in 1994 when I was living in St. Paul, Minn., 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 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.
Reupped by reader request in 320 Kick Ass KBPS here. [Originally posted May 23, 2011.] For a guy whose last name conjures up horrifying visions of torture, torment, agony, anguish, nightmare, misery, suffering and pain, Richard Hell is probably one of the sweetest people I've ever met. I can't remember exactly how we got in touch, although I think it had to do with a fake interview with John Ashbery that I ran in an issue of Readme, an online literary arts journal I edited from 1999-2001. Whatever the case, we wound up having brunch--yes, brunch--a couple of times in the East Village in the mid-2000s. Richard claimed to be a fan of my comics; I said nothing about how I had always considered him one of the greatest people on earth for having come up with what I still think is the single greatest title of a pop song, ever: "Love Comes in Spurts." Or for having practically single-handedly inventing the whole punk-DIY aesthetic; I mean, I think that had everything to do with my having been an "artist" in the first place. After we hung out, we exchanged CDs and tapes. He sent me a CD of TIME (his greatest hits along with a live CD) and I sent him a cassette tape of a bunch of music I'd found in bodegas--including some of the stuff I've posted here over the last year or so. Including, significantly, to me, the song you'll hear in the sample below. I was convinced--*convinced*--that he was going to be bowled over by the raw pop power of that Kabylie song, and write me back, singing my praises as the Greatest Digger On Earth..("OMG! Where did you *find* this gem of etc. etc. etc.?!?") Well, that's not exactly what happened. But I've always remembered his response, which I think was one of the greatest tossed-off bits of philosophy I've ever read: To paraphrase (since I no longer have the e-mail), he basically said that it was incredible to imagine all of us, all over the world, walking around with each of our unique "life-soundtracks" going on in our heads. Something like that, but far more eloquently, if off-the-cuffedly--put. It was a kind way of saying that my soundtrack wasn't his. But that he certainly respected that I had one. And that it was, finally, so different from his own. Or anyone's. I admit, part of me was a bit disappointed that he didn't thrill to the Kabylie pop as I did, and still do. Pop music is such that, one wants to know others are not just listening to what you're listening to, but mesmerized by it. It isn't an art of intimacy. So I offer it to you, anonymous reader and potential downloader. What do you think? What are you liking? What are you disliking? What do you want to hear more of? Let me know ... As for this CD, I know almost next to nothing about it, other than I got it at Princess Music & Electronics in Bay Ridge, which closed sometime last summer. And that it remains one of my all-time favorite pop CDs, ever.
Dare you eat a peach? [Reupped b/c you simply can't live w/out it.]
The radiant prayer of steel bursts between your ears. There it is, outside of sorrow. Inferior to the click beetle. Things that have poured, of light. That were born in soft legs and the rain that no longer rains. Into the arc lamp above, the "crazed moon." When it arrives and wraps. Wraps the ocean? The shape of a poem. And horses, larvae. The dung peacefully eating its surroundings.
The water of mayhem wrapped in the palm of your hand, twisting itself. FOR THE FIGHTING SPIRIT OF THE WALNUT. Nipped by the air creatures everywhere, bewildered, nut-cracking. Able to melt this cloud like a ringing ear. The quick leaps have a fire!
You would like to stand yourself up, as humans did, long ago. Without gazing and is not here. To think poems are always thunderclouds with our blind eyes and folded branches. Fog descending stairs? Wonder what kind of deranged scratch marks resist dyed "Chinese" signs, food displays, the right to read in any order? Shy twitch where the leaf mulch spreads. Poetry continues to differ from what people believe the bar tilts, a cheerful hustle, the spirit torn apart by the swirl it's just lived through.
Freshly reupped here. Just then I noticed the thin edge of words thinly glowing of wood. They stumble around with fingers rooted in the ducts of these creatures everywhere, hanging between branches of mistakes. Little Fujiko, little bolt of lightening, lease this illusory space closing in on you. You believe you really saw this, these vacant bolts randomly passing you by, these blocks of cloud hanging from shoulder. We are all unexploded shells, wrapped around an inner field of nettles. You can't even listen as much as has been sung. You can't even sing as much as has been heard. They pass it now from their lips to yours.
Grab it here. Yet more awesomeness from Ecuador. This woman does this this thing with her voice that I've personally not heard outside of recordings from Cambodia -- that super-leap that I'm sure has a technical name of some kind associated with it, but which I only know as "that super leap." Do you know what I mean? No? Would you, like ... mind working with me here? Super leap. C'mon. This woman is going to kick your ass. La musica esta no horrifically somber as everything else I've been picking up from Ecuador -- in fact, by comparison, it's downright life-affirming (altho I'm convinced it's probably addressing the same depressing life/love problems) -- but Holy Crap, what her voice does. Okay, it's like yodeling? But groovy. And look at her. Is that a face that says "Oh ignore me I'm not very talented"? No; no, it's not. We both know that. Look at her. Just ... look at her! And listen to this:
Get it here. After discovering, a year or two ago, that the shaggy little bodega where I'd found most of my fabulous Ecuadorian music had closed down, I just assumed I would never find another album from the region. All that changed two or three weeks ago, when I acted on a sudden craving I was having for chorizo sopes and made the trip out on the 7 train to east Jackson Heights. There, in a Spanish-language media store (mostly DVDs), I discovered, all the way in the back, a wee rack of soot-covered CDs. This gem was one of the handful that I picked up. (I'll be posting the best of the others in the coming days.) According to Google's translation of Proaño's official website, the Ecuadorian singer was "always involved in all Ecuadorian music festivals to which you have been invited, so it was that, as in the land was well known and renowned for its fashion and style of singing." According to me? This record is going to completely transform your blah nothin-goin-on Sunday morning into a lush, green permaculture paradise ... but don't take my word for it; listen to the first song from this environmentally sustainable album and tell me permaculture is not ours:
Reupped in 320kbps here. Found in a bodega somewhere in Jackson Heights, Queens. Known as the Queen of Canción Nacional, Jaramillo was born in 1904 and performed for a solid half century, from 1922 up until 1972. This album was compiled in 1997, a decade after Jaramillo's death. Listen to the first song from this collection:
Reupped in 320 Xtremely Fabulous KBPS, because it's just that awesome, here. [Originally posted May 5, 2011.] I found this incredible gem in a bodega in east Jackson Heights, in what I believe was an Ecuadoran bodega, although it's been a few years, so perhaps it was Columbian or Mexican. I have found nothing other than a few YouTube videos featuring the Juarez Villamar sisters, so if you have any info, it would be greatly appreciated. I don't really know Spanish, but the title seems to be "A Tomb for the Two." Gack. Is it really that morbid? I'll say this much, it's intensely beautiful, one of my favorite CDs of all time, not to mention that it sports one of the grooviest covers to boot. Here's a video of the sisters to enjoy while you download: