Category Archives: Arts

Musical DNA Goes Everywhere Today

February 25th, 2016

James Brown’s 1968 hit “Say it Out Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” not only became a #1 R&B hit, the anthem for the Black Power movement, but also inspired new pride among countless Africans in newly-independent nations that had just become free of colonial power.  Hits like this were heard via the Voice of America radio, which broadcast from Gibraltar throughout Africa with the great Cameroonian host Georges Collinet, now @ Afropop Worldwide.

With social media and the internet, music travels around the world even faster.  Here are two examples of hit songs reaching artists and audiences far away:   a reggae cover of Adele’s “Hello” from the Solomon Islands:  never mind the bad lip synching:

An even better version is by this Korean student, for whom English is a second language,  but it’s weird that the guitarist isn’t showing.  Nevertheless, she really must have studied hard because she nails it:

Finally, a Peruvian teenager sings Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” in the Quechua language of indigenous Peruvians:

Finally, an Arabic version of the Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid, by two Lebanese artists, Jean Marie Riachi and Abir Nehme, who sings the lyrics).

Although some might consider such covers to be English-language musical hegemony, I feel that such covers help spread musical DNA all over, revealing some amazing young talent as well.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Apollonian v. Dionysian Music Experience

January 28th, 2016

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The other day, while listening to KCRW’s weekday program, Morning Becomes Eclectic, I was listening to a new Coldplay song called “Major Minus”, a big and absorbing musical tapestry that you can get lost in. I also thought about the film premiere of the Electric Daisy Carnival on Hollywood Boulevard the other night, where Kaskade and Jason Bentley were deejaying and the crowd went over the edge.  Several people got hurt but most had a great time.

Then I saw a picture taken the other day at the El Rey performance of the punk rockers Pink Eyes, where the lead singer was handing the microphone over to an ecstatic fan held aloft  in the mosh pit.

It occurred to me that all three musical items, the Coldplay song, the Pink Eyes show, The Electric Daisy Carnival were modern day versions of the Dionysian concept from Greek mythology that was revived by Nietzsche’s book The Birth of Tragedy.

Let me explain: According to Greek mythology, both Dionysus and Apollo are songs of the über god Zeus. Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, and intoxication. Dance.  Body. Music.

Apollo is cerebral: the god of the sun, reason, and dreams. Head music. Music to meditate or levitate by.

I listen to a lot of classical music and jazz. Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, Debussy, Coltrane, Miles Davis. Also tropical latin music by Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Celia Cruz, and others. I like dancing to Latin music, but have to remember various steps and combinations moves. And as listeners to my KCRW shows know, I love the Brazilians too: Jobim, Dori Caymmi, Gal Costa, and many others.

I guess my preferences run more to the Apollonian. I sit in my living room, enjoy a glass of wine, and focus my listening on these artists regularly. I sit still in the sweet spot, focus on the music, and absorb the beauty.

The Electric Daisy Carnival, Kaskade, electronic music, the Coldplay song, raves, mosh pits are a collective flight into ecstasy, where people happily leave their normal senses behind and become engulfed in music. Ecstasy, after all, means “out of body”. It can and does get wild. That’s the essence of the Dionysian experience.

Apollonian involves stillness and thinking. Dionysian involves movement, dancing, individual and collective trance and ecstasy. The later sufi works of John Coltrane are a combination of both—works like A Love Supreme and Ascension seek closer union with the Divine. Ditto for works of the late qawwali (qawwali=sufi music from Pakistan) singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

I guess I enjoy both musical experiences, but my musical lifestyle tends to be more Apollonian than Dionysian. Which one defines your musical preference?

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Time Traveling with Music

February 26th, 2015

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In just the past couple of weeks, here at ACEI, we have been suddenly blessed by a flow of credentials from individuals with degrees in music. Holders of these degrees are from all corners of the world and studied at conservatories and universities from Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Italy, South Korea, to Canada. They are all seeking teaching positions at various high schools and colleges throughout the U.S. Coincidence? Perhaps, but a very happy and encouraging one to know that music education in this country is alive and highly talented and qualified individuals will be teaching our young people.

Having just watched the film “Whiplash,” the story of a promising young drummer as a first year jazz student at a prestigious and cutthroat music conservatory and his abusive and demanding teacher, I was reminded of my early childhood experience with learning the piano. The actor J.K. Simmons who plays the role of the teacher in “Whiplash,” won this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, a much-deserved award, though his character’s personality is nothing like my former piano teacher, Suzi.

I was seven when I first met Suzi. She was twenty-five. A recent graduate of the Vienna Conservatory, the daughter of upper middleclass Armenian parents living in Tehran, Suzi was a virtuoso. She could have been a concert pianist performing around the world, yet for reasons unbeknownst to me, she had chosen to return to Iran, move in with her parents and teach piano to children of privileged Iranian families.

Finding me a piano teacher had been my mother’s idea. After seeing “The Sound of Music,” I had pestered my mother that I wished to learn a musical instrument and the piano was my number one choice. She had surprised me with news of fulfilling my wish by picking me up from school one chilly afternoon in Autumn and taking me directly to Suzi’s house. She met us at the entrance to her house that like most Iranian homes was hidden behind high walls and a large iron gate. Tall and rail thin with pale skin and light green eyes, she struck me as a ghostly figure emerging through the plume of her cigarette smoke. A far cry from Julie Andrews’s timid Maria of The Sound of Music, Suzi commanded a regal presence in her designer tailored dusty rose suit with pumps displaying the famous Chanel logo and the short single strand of pearls adorning her swanlike neck.

We followed her through the inner courtyard carpeted with yellow, russet and orange leaves, past the decorative shallow pool empty of water but a few layers of leaves. She led us to the house, a two story building its façade bathed in pale yellow offset by white shutters and two white pillars standing on each side of the front door looking like sentries guarding the inner sanctum. Suzi’s music room, or the “studio” as she called it, was on the ground floor as was her apartment. Her parents lived on the second floor.

As we parted with our coats in the marbled foyer, we trailed Suzi down the hallway carpeted with a well-worn Persian runner, past large oil paintings of landscapes mounted on cream-colored walls. The faint sound of classical music I had heard earlier in the foyer got louder and louder as we neared what I assumed to have been her studio. It was the most sublime piano music I had ever heard. “It’s Chopin…nocturne,” Suzi whispered as though our natural voices would somehow disturb the pianist on the recording. “Someday you will be playing these very pieces, my dear,” she said to me, her tone sincere and filled with optimism of my abilities, though until that day, I had neither played nor touched the keys on a piano.

Her studio was spacious with French windows opening to the courtyard. A pot bellied stove had been lit heating up the room. A full-length Persian rug with rust and creamy white floral design covered the entire marbled floor. A partially drawn sliding glass door separated the studio from another that remained dark but I was able to make out the silhouette of a black grand piano. It stood alone in the center of the room like a king holding court with the low hanging chandelier as its crown.

Bookshelves and framed oil paintings of pastoral landscapes hung on the walls. Perched atop the mantle and squeezed between books on the shelves and coffee table were small statues of men’s heads. Stacked against one wall was a collection of LPs, displaying covers of recordings by symphonic orchestras.

Two upright pianos rested side-by-side against one wall. “Perfect for duets,” Suzi said, sensing my curiosity and invited me to look around while she and my mother sat on the sofa to talk. I jumped at the invitation and headed toward the framed photographs on the wall and on the pianos. They were mostly of Suzi sitting behind a piano or standing next to one on a stage with various people. In some photos she was dressed elegantly in an evening gown and in others she looked as she did on that day. Framed documents in an unfamiliar language adorned with gold seals and red ribbons covered another portion of the wall above the upright piano. The language wasn’t English but used the English alphabet. I was able to make out the word Vienna and Konservatorium, and of course, Suzi’s name. Graduation diplomas, I concluded. Little did I know then that thirteen years later I would be examining and evaluating diplomas like Suzi’s at a company based in the U.S.

My snooping was cut short by Suzi inviting me to join her on bench in front of the piano where we sat side-by-side. I breathed in her perfume and stared at the empty pages of an open book with lines unlike any notebook I had seen before. “This is going to be our sheet music. You’ll be learning a new language that will help you play beautiful music.”

Still curious at the objects around me, I pointed at two busts atop the piano. “Who are those?” I asked.

“The one on the left is Schubert, and that one on the right is Ludwig von Beethoven,” she replied. “Soon you play their pieces,” she added with confidence. “Here’s a little taste of Chopin, it’s one of his Nocturnes.”

I didn’t know what a nocturne was but as soon as her long fingers touched the keys, the room was filled with the sound of music so glorious unlike anything I’d heard in my short seven years of existence. Suzi may have seemed fragile and almost frail on the outside, but the music that was emanating from the piano was powerful, yet intensely graceful and melodic evoking so much emotional sentiment that I found my skin tingling with goose bumps. So overcome I was by its sheer beauty that I fought hard to hold back tears as she played.

Patiently, Suzi began the instruction and over time, I had not only learned to read musical notes but played them with confidence. By the time I was ten, Beethoven’s sonatas, Mozart’s piano concertos, Tchaikovsky’s mazurkas were my go-to pieces of music. I continued with my piano lessons at Charters Towers School (CTS), the boarding school I attended for the next six years in England. At CTS, not only did I take lessons, I also prepared for exams with the Royal School of Music and participated in competitions playing solos and duets. I fared well and won a few awards and collected certificates. But it was during those brief visits to Iran for the Christmas or summer holidays when I’d resume my lessons with Suzi, that I felt a oneness with the piano. At Suzi’s I was able to enjoy playing the piano for the sheer love of the composers and their creations; free of the drudgery of competitions and pursuit of awards.

It was at one of the lessons with Suzi during a summer holiday that she introduced me to a collection of Chopin’s nocturnes. “Let’s start with this piece,” she said, turning open a page from a book bearing a portrait of Chopin on its cover. I had just turned 13. I must have balked at the sight of the open page in front of me filled with a complex line-up of notes. “I’ll play a few bars and then it’s your turn.” As soon as she began to play, I was overcome by a sense of déjà vu. She was playing the very piece I had heard six years earlier when my mother and I had first stepped into her studio…the same piece she had played for me on that first day. Suzi had promised me that one day I too would be playing Chopin and she had kept her promise.

I was sixteen when I last saw Suzi. I was heading to America to study but had plans to return for the long summer holidays. Unbeknownst to both of us, our lesson in summer of ’78 was to going to be our last. “Find yourself a piano at the university and practice, practice, practice!” These were Suzi’s last words.

At the University of San Diego, I did find a piano and after graduation bought a piano and continued to play. To date, the piano is my go-to instrument to unwind, relax and create. I still play the classics but I’ve learned to improvise and free form. On occasion, I’m invited to play with a talented group of friends in their music studio. No sheet music, no notes, just stream of consciousness creating and performing.

Thanks to Suzi, my dream of learning the piano had come true. Had I not pestered my mother to find me a teacher after seeing the film “The Sound of Music,” I may never had the musical experience that is part of my life even today. I wonder if I would have felt the same had I seen the film “Whiplash.”

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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI), an international credential evaluation company, based in Los Angeles, CA. She is a leading expert on world education systems, and is also writing her memoire “Cinema Iran,” offering a glimpse into pre-Islamic Republic Iran as seen through the eyes of a young girl. This blog includes excerpts from a chapter in her memoire entitled “Tehran Nocturnes.”

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Rubén Blades’ “El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés”

February 12th, 2015

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Grammy Award-winning Rubén Blades is a wonderfully gifted Panamanian poet and songwriter whose works often take on a political tinge. Raised in a progressive family, his grand-uncle was a revolutionary during the Cuban War of Independence against Spain. His mother was an actress, his father a musician, and the girls in his family attended college. Ruben himself studied international law at Harvard on a full scholarship.

I knew Rubén back when he lived in Santa Monica. I once had him over for my mother’s famous bolognese spaghetti, along with his wife and an architect friend, Bob Ramirez, who designed my home.

Rubén’s Grammy Award last week for Tangos and the recent news about Pope Francis’ declaration of the slain Archbishop Óscar Romero’s martyrdom brought to mind a tribute he wrote back in 1984 titled “El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés” (“Father Antonio and His Altar Boy Andrés”) from the album Buscando America. The song was performed by his great then-band Seis del Solar, fronted by Oscar Hernández (who now leads the Spanish Harlem Orchestra).

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Ruben Blades posted this selfie on February 3, 2015, along with a letter to Monsignor Romero.

Archbishop Romero, like Pope Francis, championed the rights and struggles of the poor in Latin America. He was a proponent of liberation theology, an interpretation of the Scripture that dictates working actively toward social and political justice by aligning oneself with the less fortunate, like Jesus did. The Archbishop publicly opposed El Salvador’s right-wing government and its brutal military repression at the very onset of the country’s 1980–92 civil war and was consequently assassinated at the altar for his convictions, by order of the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista founder. A formal apology was finally issued for his murder by the El Salvadorian government as late as 2010.

Rubén wrote “El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés” during the time of the civil wars in both El Salvador and Nicaragua, the Reagan administration and the Iran-Contra affair. Former President Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Ed Meese, et al were in support of El Salvador’s military dictatorship, working to oust leftist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Buscando America has always been one of my favorite albums of Rubén Blades. And now 35 years later, thanks to Pope Francis, Archbishop Oscar Romero is one step closer to sainthood, bringing closure to “El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés.” Have a look at the lyrics translated below.

“El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés”

“Father Antonio Tejeira came from Spain
Searching for new promises in this land
He went to the jungle without any hope of becoming a bishop
And in spite of the heat and the mosquitoes he talked about Christ.
The priest didn’t go to the Vatican
Among papers and air conditioned dreams
So he went to a small town in the middle of nowhere to give his weekly sermon
For those in search of salvation.
Andrés Eloy Pérez is 10-years-old
He attends Simon Bolivar Elementary School.
He still cannot recite the Holy Scripture properly
He loves the river, playing soccer, and playing hooky.
He’s been given the task of altar boy at the church
With the hope that this connection will “fix him.”
And his family is very proud because they also believe
That once you have one connected to God, by default you are connected to Him as well.
Bells are tolling, one, two, three
For Father Antonio and his altar boy, Andrés
Bells are tolling again, oh, oh, oh
For Father Antonio and his altar boy, Andrés, Andrés
Father condemns violence.
He knows by experience that is not a solution.
He speaks to them of love and justice
The news of God shining through a sermon.War found the Father one Sunday, in Mass,
Handing out communion with his sleeves rolled up.
The killer came in halfway through the Lord’s Prayer,
and without confessing his guilt, fired at him. Antonio fell, Host in hand, not knowing why
And Andrés died at his side, without ever meeting Pelé.
Between the screams and the astonishment,
There in agony, was the wooden Christ nailed against the wall.
No one ever knew who the criminal was
Who killed Father Antonio and his altar boy Andrés.
But the bells still ring, one, two, three
For Father Antonio and his altar boy, Andrés.
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Tinariwen, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer

November 13th, 2014

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Tinariwen’s Emmaar (2014)

Tinariwen, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer sounds like a gruesome scene from the Kel Tamashek uprising of 1963 in northern Mali that saw the death of messianic Tinarwen frontman Ibrahim Ag Alhabib’s parents when he was a small boy. But in fact, it’s actually the group’s playbill for the North America tour for their latest album, Emmaar.

When The Harpoonist (Shawn Hall) and the Axe Murderer (Matt Rogers) walked onstage last weekend at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex to open for Tinariwen, not many people knew who these two guys from Vancouver were. The duo’s name apparently references the blues harp(oon) from a line in country music singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson’s hit, “Me and Bobby McGee”: “I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana.” “Harp” being slang for the harmonica (Shawn Hall); “axe” is a common term for the guitar (Matthew Rogers). These two bust out the sounds of a full live blues and roots band playing their respective instruments while stomping and tapping out beats with both pairs of feet on kick drum, snare, foot tambourine, and shaker. (Check out the video at the end of this post to see them in action.) It’s no wonder why Tinariwen booked this Vancouver duo as the opening set for their entire North American tour.

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The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer

Perhaps it’s that DIY nature with which Saharan ‘desert blues’ band Tinariwen feels some kinship. As the story goes, Tinariwen was founded in 1979 by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib while he, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, and Alhassane Ag Touhami were scraping by in the Algerian refugee camp of Tamanrasset. The following year, they answered Muammar el-Quaddafi’s call to create a Saharan regiment of Tuareg fighters and received infantry training while performing their soulful dirges and finding fans amongst other sympathizers seeking to establish a single independent Tuareg republic. Their anthemic music became “the soundtrack for Tuareg independence and reconciliation,” spread via bootleg cassette tapes by their Kel Tamashek fans who began to call them “Kel Tinariwen,” derived from the word ténéré, which means ‘of the deserts.’

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Tinariwen founder, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib

After the Tamanrasset Accords of 1991, Tinariwen left the military to fully devote themselves to music. Ibrahim says, “I had long ago realized that I was a musician and poet, and that these were better weapons with which to achieve what I wanted.” Performing their songs in mostly minor keys with static harmonies, like “Tahalamot,“ guitarist Abdallah layers consistent modal rhythms over a signature bass key, painting a vast ever-changing desert landscape.

Tinariwen’s blues sound is one of ‘assouf,’ expressing a deep loneliness and eternal yearning. Due to the political instability of Mali, they remain nomads, unable to return to their native homeland for risk of incarceration or worse. Now a multi-generational collective of musicians and songwriters, their timeless music sings of exile, struggle, and division, but also of “the beauty of the desert, the sky, the lands, our blues, and the nostalgia of an old time.”

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Exiled from their native Mali, Tinariwen recorded their latest album, Emaar in Joshua Tree, CA.

Raised on North African protest music, Berber traditions, and raï music, Tinariwen were exposed in the military camps to the Western sounds of Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, and the “guitar-driven anthems of Jimi Hendrix and the American blues.” Also hugely influential was Malian bluesman Ali Farka Touré, who reinterpreted native kora and djéli (griot) music for electric guitar, creating a sound reminiscent of the Mississippi delta blues. Most African slaves brought over to the U.S. were originally from the Sahel region and kept the musical, cultural, and spiritual traditions of their native homelands, which would pave the way for the early twentieth century American blues tradition.

Bassist Eyadou Ag Leche says, “I’m told that a lot of the Africans who went to North America came from West Africa, from our part of the world. So it’s all the same connection. I think that any people who have lived through something that is very hard, feel this [assouf], this pain, this longing. That is what will make [our] music sound similar to each other.”

Tinariwen perform “Islegh Taghram Tifhaman” from their album, Emmaar.

The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer perform “Love Me ‘fore Ya Leave Me.”

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

toms

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Walter Benjamin: Why Is Art Worth More Than Music?

August 21st, 2014

walter-benjamin

German Philosopher Walter Benjamin: 1892-1940

Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher (1892-1940) whose most famous work from 1936 was called The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. You can read here. In his famous work, he discusses originality, authenticity, and mass production of art. He writes about the “aura” that original works of art possess and the loss of that “aura” in works that have been reproduced. A painting by Picasso has an aura. A lithograph by Picasso in a run of 250 copies does not. The lithograph is not the original. Neither does photography have an aura. In his thinking, photos are the image of an image.

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Why is Man With Blue Guitar worth so much more than Kind Of Blue?

What about music? Why is an original master tape of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue worth eons less than Picasso’s Man with the Blue Guitar? Why do most iconic jazz musicians make so much less money than iconic fine artists? Why didn’t Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, or John Coltrane fetch the kind of money Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, or Mark Rothko have made? Is it because record companies pressed thousands if not millions of their records, and that all performances on those records were identical? What about the master tape, the original? Is it worth less because it has been copied, just like lithographs?

And yet a signed copy of say, Kind of Blue would still be worth much less than a signed lithograph by Matisse or Picasso.

Walter Benjamin committed suicide in 1940 when he believed he couldn’t cross the Spanish / French border and escape death from the nazis. He had gone there, like Hemingway and George Orwell, to help the Republicans. When Franco called in the Luftwaffe to test out the new ME 109s and bomb Guernica, Picasso painted the horrendous painting of the same name. Too bad Walter Benjamin didn’t live longer, or write about musical recordings and the rise of the music industry after World War II.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres

Blogs for Rhythm Planet

Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

www.tomschnabel.com

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Fourth Of July Fun Facts

July 4th, 2014

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The Fourth of July: The day Americans celebrate their country’s independence.

It’s a day you probably know well, and one that you anticipate with pleasure; but there are probably a lot of fun facts about the nation’s birthday that you aren’t familiar with.

Click to see slide show of 10 interesting facts about July 4

Towering Pyramids: Bonfires on July 3rd

bonfire

Before fireworks were mainstream, huge bonfires were built to celebrate Independence day.

The bonfires reached monumental proportions, but none matched the 100-foot pyramid built for the Gallows Hill bonfire in Salem, MA.

Read the article on The Atlantic

As American as Apple Pie

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One American tradition; two very different ways of preparing it – one of them doesn’t even have apples in the ingredients!

Get the recipes:

Mock Apple Pie

Traditional Apple Pie

Favorite 4th of July BBQ recipes

Here are some unique recipes to make your BBQ even more special with your family and friends this July 4th.

Fun 4th of July BBQ recipes

Happy Fourth from ACEI!

This independence day brings forth a new hope to make our tomorrows most beautiful and cherished. Wishing everyone a very happy 4th of July from all us here at ACEI!

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Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc.
www.acei1.com

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