We’re pleased to have Tom Schnabel, the legendary music consultant and former Music Director for KCRW, share two articles he has recently written for his Rhythm Planet blog with us here this week.
Tom’s extensive knowledge of music from many genres, and his expertise in curating music by artists outside the mainstream of pop culture have always helped those of us in Los Angeles and beyond to enjoy the good and endure the difficult times. He has compiled a series of playlists in the two blogs we are sharing with you to try to soothe your nerves as well as to inject a small dose of humor into the mix
We’re living in strange and uncertain times. I’ve compiled two playlists this week to try to soothe your nerves as well as to inject a small dose of humor into the mix.
First, a 4+ hour-long playlist of calming, meditative, and beautiful music to listen to while working from home or just relaxing. Music can offer a spiritual balm and help to assuage our worries. I am very happy with this playlist, for which I’ve mined songs that I often featured on air throughout the decades of my career.
The second (and shorter) Optimist Playlist focuses on being positive in times like ours. I’ve selected some reassuring and fun songs by Chet Baker, Mose Allison, Slim Gaillard, and more.
I sincerely hope you enjoy these playlists, whichever one you might be in the mood for. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.
Tom Schnabel is an internationally recognized radio producer, pioneer, and innovator in world music. He helped introduce world music to American audiences as KCRW’s first music director and host of Morning Becomes Eclectic (1979-1991). Tom is the author of two books (Stolen Moments: Conversations with Contemporary Musicians and Rhythm Planet: The Great World Music Makers), and numerous articles about music. He has produced a number of recordings (Trance Planet, vols. 1–5), and provides music supervision for advertising and movies. He has also served as Program Advisor for the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall, and continues to host weekly music shows for KCRW online. His KCRW Rhythm Planet blog is approaching 500 entries covering all aspects of music. http://blogs.kcrw.com/rhythmplanet/ In 1998 Tom was honored by the French government with the French Medal of Arts, Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Des Lettres. www.tomschnabel.com
The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.
Have you heard of BTS? No, its not another acronym for an educational credential or yet another new international professional organization. It stands for Beyond the Scene, the acronym for a boy-band from Korea, but not just any boy-band. ACEI-Global.Blog readers might be surprised to see this post about the K-Pop group BTS. We do, however, have the pleasure of hearing from our guest blogger, world music connoisseur, Tom Schnabel (former Music Director of KCRW) who, through the help of a huge BTS fan, gives us a glimpse of the world of K-Pop, and BTS, a global musical phenomenon.
The reach of BTS and their music is evidenced in this photo of this Algerian student’s sign at a protest. The words on his sign are lyrics from a BTS song. – ACEI
Rhythm Planet readers might be surprised to see this post about the K-Pop group BTS. I don’t normally cover pop music, but over the past months, BTS has become a global musical phenomenon unlike anything I have ever seen. Yet most people I know still remain oblivious to the group. I’m not a BTS expert, so I’ve asked a huge fan I know to introduce us to the group and explain why we should all get to know BTS. — Tom Schnabel
The seven-member K-Pop group BTS—short for either their Korean name Bangtan Sonyeondan (Bulletproof Boy Scouts) or an English name Beyond the Scene—is currently on the tail end of their Love Yourself world tour, which began in Seoul on August 25, 2018. The sold out tour has so far taken the members through 11 cities across North America and Europe plus 5 cities and counting in Asia. They’ve performed 34 concerts to date in major venues like Citi Field in New York, The O2 Arena in London, and the Tokyo Dome. Their most recent stop at Singapore National Stadium—where they were the first pop group from anywhere ever to perform—drew 45,000 passionate fans. What truly amazed me, however, was that fans from all over the world shared in the excitement and joy of the Singapore concert via more than one million tweets that weekend. It’s just one example of the powerful reach of BTS, and excitingly, they are still on the rise.
I joined the BTS ARMY (as the fans are collectively called) only this past August, when I happened to see an NPR music blog post about their candy-colored music video for the song “Idol.” It had broken YouTube’s record for the most number of views (45 million) within the first 24 hours of a video’s release, yet I had never heard of BTS. I was blown away by the dance moves and liked the song’s positive message. As an Asian American, I was also surprised and delighted that members of an Asian boy band appeared to have become worldwide heartthrobs. I wondered who they were and how they managed to connect with fans from Peru to Turkey, all while singing and rapping primarily in Korean. A YouTube search led me to introductory videos and a staggering amount of official and fan-made content. I quickly noticed—after watching just a few videos and reading some of the comments—that the group had forged a deep connection with fans through its music as well as what the members generously share about their lives via social media.
BTS members have a hand in writing and producing much of their music, and their lyrics often draw from their own experiences. They sing/rap candidly about dreams, doubts, and struggles, reflect on what they’ve achieved, and express satisfaction at overcoming haters who derided them as fluffy pop idols. Their most recent suite of three Love Yourself albums addresses themes of self-love and self-acceptance, and refreshingly to me, no glorification of sex, drugs, or violence is anywhere to be found. BTS’s heartfelt and sincere messages have resonated with its youthful ARMY, inspiring them to persevere in their own struggles and believe in their self-worth. I regularly see fan comments on Youtube and Twitter saying how much the group has helped them through hardship and depression. BTS’s positive influence is all the more important considering that Korea has one of the highest suicide rates of industrialized nations, with a troubling increase in teen suicides.
BTS also tries to create a positive impact on the lives of young people through its philanthropic endeavors. Shortly after the first Love Yourself album was released in fall of 2017, BTS partnered with UNICEF on the #ENDviolence initiative and simultaneously launched its own Love Myself campaign—both with the goal of ending violence against children and teens. The members and their management company collectively donated almost half a million U.S. dollars to the campaign and pledged a percentage of the proceeds from their album sales as well. While passing through New York last September on tour, BTS spoke at the United Nations in support of its UNICEF collaboration. Group leader RM acknowledged their sense of responsibility as role models and urged their fans to find their own voices:
BTS debuted in 2013 under Big Hit Entertainment, one of the smaller management companies in Korea. The seven members—RM, Jin, SUGA, J-Hope, Jimin, V, Jungkook—are currently between 21 and 26 years old. As is normal under the K-pop entertainment system, the members live together dormitory-style beginning from their trainee years. BTS started out in cramped quarters and slept in a single room, and some of the earliest members to join have now lived together for almost a decade. They have overcome hard times and celebrated triumphs together as a team. Not surprisingly, the members consider each other as brothers and BTS as a family. They’ve remarked that something feels off if one of them is away from the group, and their lyrics make frequent reference to the Bangtan brotherhood.
The members’s closeness and rapport shine through in hours of behind-the-scenes footage from rehearsals, dance practice, backstage, and music video shoots, as well as in several reality/variety series (Run BTS!, Bon Voyage, Burn the Stage) that they’ve filmed. Their genuine affection and support for each other only further endears them to an adoring ARMY, myself included. It’s simply charming and joyful to watch the members tease each other, have fun, and goof around like the young men that they are, even as they work extremely hard at their craft. Kudos also to Big Hit, for often prompting the members to think and talk openly about their achievements and fears in the many videos (such as this one) produced for fan consumption. The members express amazement that so many of their dreams have come true, but also struggle with the pressures that come with success. They look ahead to the future, knowing that this ascendance—and their youth and energy—won’t last forever. They speak of enjoying the moment and growing old together with ARMY. I find their emotional maturity and groundedness admirable given their youth and rapid rise.
In fact, ever since their debut in 2013, BTS members have shared their thoughts, feelings, and their everyday lives with fans through social media. There are video logs wherein they talk about anything, live chats on their fan cafe, live video broadcasts, and above all, thousands of tweets from a shared Twitter channel, where they currently have over 18 million followers. All the official online content combined with the group’s social media presence have allowed ARMY to connect with the members as real people rather than as idols on a pedestal—regular guys who still do their own laundry and love to eat instant ramen and Panda Express. By reaching out to their fans so openly and frequently, the members have cultivated a loyal fan base that reciprocates with a fierce love and devotion.
BTS understands how much ARMY contributes to their success, and the members take every opportunity to express their gratitude. The group won Billboard’s Top Social Artist of the Year award at the BBMA’s in both 2017 and 2018 thanks to ARMY’s efforts. ARMYs around the world lobbied hard to get them nominated in 2017, even though many people at the awards didn’t even know who BTS was at the time. Hardworking volunteer ARMY translators provide translations and subtitles for Korean lyrics, tweets, and videos almost instantly, so that international fans can understand in English, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic…you name it. Non-Korean ARMYs memorize the Korean lyrics (and many are learning Korean) so that they can sing along at concerts. They are vigorous defenders against real or perceived slights to the group. They are also quick to embrace anyone who gives the group a chance, because as big as BTS has become, it has yet to fully break into the western mainstream as a K-Pop act. K-Pop is not simply American pop sung in Korean. It is a genre unto itself where music, complex choreography, eye-popping videos, and edgy fashion all play an important role. The guys wear makeup and dye their hair rainbow colors. Language aside, these are not familiar aesthetics for male artists to a western pop audience, and it may still come off kitchy like Gangnam Style.
2018 was a very good year for BTS, with two number one albums on the Billboard 200, a Time magazine cover, not to mention the sold out tour. Their accomplishments on and off the world record charts are too lengthy to list—the word “first” currently appears 85 times on their Wikipedia page. But 2019 might be the year that BTS and K-Pop finally break through to a wider audience. The group was invited to present an award at this year’s Grammys, and they’ll be seated in the second and third rows along with the biggest pop stars in the west. The Recording Academy, which has been under attack for a lack of diversity in the Awards, has surely thought shrewdly about the good visuals offered by the group’s prominent seating. However, I do think they’re acknowledging BTS’s global success, even though it has yet to score a number 1 single on the Billboard 100. I’ll take bets that the ratings will be higher. I know I’ll be watching the Grammys for the first time in over a decade just to cheer the guys on.
In Season 3 of BTS’s Bon Voyage travel series, Jin, the eldest member of the group, goes around Malta jokingly asking random people if they know BTS. He probably won’t need to ask that question much longer. Even if their music isn’t your thing, I hope you’ve come to know BTS as not just “the new One Direction,” but an inspirational bunch of hardworking musicians and dancers who happen to be some of the nicest idols around.
Get to know the individual members of BTS:
The poignant music video for Spring Day, which pays tribute to the victims of the South Korean Sewol ferry tragedy (be sure to turn on English captions if they don’t come on):
Now that we have 2017 behind us, we’d like to take a look at the countries in the African continent, in Latin America and India and learn a little more about some of them. We realize traveling to these destinations may not be possible, but we can agree that one way of appreciating their cultures is through their music. To guide us on this musical journey, we’ve invited our guest blogger and music aficionado, Tom Schnabel, to share with us a list of his favorites.
We turn next to a good example of musical cross-pollination with India’s master sitar player Shujaat Khan and Iranian vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi, together exploring the Persian-Indian music connection that formed centuries ago along the spice route. After that, let’s check out a tribute to G.F. Handel from L’Arpeggiata with some crazy twists—it’s “crossover classical” at its best.
We switch gears and close the 2017 highlights show with the hot Latin band La Mambanegra from Cali, Colombia, followed by a young Cape Verdean star named Elida Almeida, who just released her third successful album.
I hope you like these picks as much as I do. They represent, however, only a fraction of all the terrific world music I’ve enjoyed over the past twelve months. You can revisit, on demand, all the Rhythm Planet shows from 2017 (and earlier) on the KCRW website or on the KCRW app to hear more of the great world music from the past year.
Istanbul is a city at the center of the old world, for millenia a crossroads of civilization, trade, and cultural exchange. On the many sailing ships entering the Bosporus over the centuries came the stray cats that kept mice and other vermin under control, who then left the boats and became landlubbers. Kedi is a wonderful new film about the street cats of Istanbul. We usually adopt cats into our homes, but in Istanbul the street cats choose to adopt certain lucky residents, who then take care of them. According to Oscilloscope Films, the film’s distributor, “claiming no owners, these animals live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame—and they bring joy and purpose to those people they choose to adopt.”
Aslan Parçasi—the hunter. Photo courtesy of Ceyda Torun
Istanbul native Ceyda Torun, who now lives in Los Angeles, directed this utterly delightful film, with cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann giving us great kitty-eye’s view of the feline characters, following them around in their haunts and daily travels. Thirty-five cats initially showed up for the “casting call,” but many were unreliable, so the cast was pared down to seven:
Sari—the hustler; Bengü—the lover; Aslan Parçasi—the hunter; Psikopat—the psychopath; Deniz—the social butterfly; Duman—the gentleman; and Gamsiz—the player.
The charming soundtrack features Turkish pop songs as such as “Arkadasim Esek” by Baris Manço, “Bak Yesil Yesil” by Emel Sayin, “Deli Kadin” by the Turkish psychedelic band Erkin Koray, as well as Eartha Kitt singing a Turkish classic, “Usku Dara,” plus “Amber Eyes” by an American musician named Lloyd Miller who plays over 100 instruments and is known for his expertise in world music and jazz. What makes the soundtrack music even more fun is that each cat character has his or her own theme song, kind of like friends who have specific ring tones on your phone.
A cat hanging out in a record store in Istanbul. Can you imagine fighting with a cat for elbow room in the bins at Amoeba Records? Photo by Amanda (CC BY-ND-NC 2.0) via Flickr
The cool score is by Kira Fontana, a classically-trained (Eastman School of Music, Yale University) pianist-composer. Her mentors include Steve Reich, John Adams, and David Lang. The playful and percussive music score—in which you clearly hear the Steve Reich influence—is performed by percussionist Sidney Hopson, a three-time alum of USC’s Thornton School of Music, and features marimbas, glockenspiels, vibraphones, and strings. The music was recorded at Cal Arts in Valencia, California. The Arabic darbuka drum is used to highlight the hunt and fight scenes. As Kira described to me, they aimed for “an ethereal, magical sound-world to reflect the spiritual role Istanbul’s cats play in the daily lives of the city’s residents.” I think that together, the Turkish songs and score perfectly complement the feline stars as they pursue their daily adventures.
This is a movie not only about a great city and its colorful felines, but a tribute to the kind citizens of Istanbul who love and care for them. It’s a feel-good movie if there ever was one, whether you like cats or not. If you haven’t seen the documentary yet, the trailer below provides a taste, but you can also find screening information here.
And here is Eartha Kitt’s “Usku Dara” (theme song for Aslan Parçasi—the hunter):
And this is American Lloyd Miller’s “Amber Eyes” (theme song for Gamsiz—the player):
Above, Sari—the hustler. This and banner photo at top courtesy of Ceyda Torun.
I have always believed that music brings people together and bridges cultural divides. Music can connect us like no other arts, with its universal language of rhythm and melody. Maybe even more importantly, music—especially world music, helps us understand and appreciate other cultures and people. I have bonded instantly with immigrant taxi drivers from Nigeria, Cameroon, Armenia, Argentina, and other places simply by asking them about the music of their homelands.
This core belief in the binding power of music has underpinned my work over the past 30 years to popularize world music in Los Angeles and beyond. It’s been a joy to watch ecstatic crowds dancing to Pakistani qawwali (sufi gospel) music or Nigerian afrobeat and juju, to see people entranced by whirling dervishes from Turkey and Syria, and to swoon with others to achingly beautiful classical music from Iran. My life and personal horizons have been immeasurably enriched by these experiences. Sadly, some of these experiences may now be in peril due to the recently enacted immigration ban on seven predominately Muslim countries—Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya.
In this time of division and discord, it’s imperative to keep building bridges through music. With that in mind, I want to celebrate music that I’ve loved by artists from the seven countries targeted by the recent immigration ban. This sweeping ban will most certainly prevent artists from these countries from performing in the U.S., but we can still support their music and arts from afar—by continuing to share and learn about them through recordings and the vast resources of the internet.
We begin in SYRIA with the poet-musician Abed Azrie and his albums Lapis Lazuli and Aromates. Azrie was born in Aleppo but has been based in Paris for many years. Aromates was his first album released in the U.S., on Nonesuch. I put a beautiful cut, “Pareil à l’eau” (Like Water) from the album Lapis Lazuli on a compilation that I produced called Trance Planet Vol. 3. His poetry is as beautiful as his music.
IRAQ: Munir Bashir has been called the King of Oud and is credited by many as the greatest modern oud player. Algerian-born, French singer-songwriter Pierre Bensusan gave me my first Munir Bashir LP years ago. I immediately fell in love with his finely-filigreed music. Sadly, Bashir died at the age of 47 in an auto accident in Budapest. Here is a track from his album Mesopotamia:
I also want to mention an upcoming concert at the Getty Center by Iraqi-American oud musician Rahim AlHaj. His concerts take place on Saturday, February 18 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, February 19 at 4 p.m. Admission is free, but you must make a reservation. Click here for more information and reservations.
IRAN: Masters of Persian Musicis a classical music ensemble formed in 2000 by true masters of Persian music. Iran has an amazing classical tradition, as complex and arabesque as any Mozart or Bach. Lyrics come from the classic poets and mystics: Hafez and Rumi, as well as more modern writers. The group once performed at the Hollywood Bowl with a live calligrapher rendering classical Persian poetry; it was one of the most stunning concerts ever to grace the Bowl’s celebrated stage. Here is a song from their album Hanan (Without You), featuring Hossein Alizadeh, Kayhan Kalhor, and Homayoun Shajarian. It is a gentle, passionate, and powerful love song.
YEMEN: When I think about Yemen, I immediately think of the late Yemenite Israeli singer Ofra Haza. Her parents moved from Yemen to Israel in 1950 in the airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet. She burst upon the scene in 1986 with her transcendent album Yemenite Songs. Many of the songs on the album were written by a 17th century rabbi. Her song “Im Nin’alu” topped the European charts, even rising to #1 in Germany. To me, her success was more convincing proof that music transcends language and builds bridges between cultures. Ofra once visited my UCLA World Music class—International Bandstand—and performed a Yemenite song, drumming a large oil can on her shoulder. It was a beautiful moment. Here is “Im Nin’alu“:
SUDAN: Sudanese music has incredible rhythms and deep groove. Crowds love it, though it’s featured more in big European summer festivals than in the U.S., especially after 9/11. Sudanese singer and oud player Abdel Aziz El Mubarakleads a large group, playing music that blends Arabic styles and Western forms. The great UK label Globe Style released his music back in the 1980’s, and I was listening.
SOMALIA: Somali poet, musician, and hip hop artist K’naan (born Keinan Abdi Warsame) was born in Mogadishu in 1978 and now resides in Canada. His hybrid sound draws from world music, hip hop, reggae, and of course, Somali music. He has collaborated with artists from the great Youssou N’Dour to Bono. Here is his song “Take a Minute.” Watch him as he walks by portraits of Gandhi, Mandela, Bob Marley, and Nina Simone:
LIBYA: We don’t hear too much from Libyan artists, especially here in the U.S., due in part to the country’s isolation under the four-decade long rule of Qaddafi. Ahmed Fakroun is a pioneer of modern Arabic pop music and one of the most popular Libyan artists, both in Tripoli as well as among Libyan expats. His crossover style blends Arabic instruments and lyrics with Western pop elements like synthesizers and electric bass. Here’s a track called “Ya Farhi’ Bik” from his 1983 album Mots D’Amour – it definitely has that 80’s pop sound but with an Arabic twist:
Finally, I want to mention the compilation album Lullabies from the Axis of Evil, released back in the days of the Bush 43 administration. It features music from all the countries above, as well as music from Afghanistan, North Korea, and other “evil” places.
I hope you enjoyed these tracks and will keep exploring musical riches from around the world.
With the election just over, I thought I’d call to mind some songs about U.S. presidents and elections — songs that either celebrate or poke a little fun at being POTUS. We can all use a little levity about now, right?
The second song is by the great bluesman Percy Mayfield with Johnny “Guitar” Watsonfrom 1974 called, “I Don’t Want to Be President.” It’s a fun and timely song by Billy Vera’s favorite singer-songwriter. I found it on an Atlantic Records two-LP set from the 1980’s called Atlantic Blues:Vocalists.
I first heard the Sufi devotional music called qawwali around 1982 on a WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) album. WOMAD was Peter Gabriel’s world music label and brainchild. This was right about the time when a bunch of Brit record executives coined the term “world music” as a category for retail sales purposes. The five-minute excerpt I heard was powerful, enthralling. I was transfixed. I contacted WOMAD and asked them how long the original was. The answer? Two hours.
The music was that of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani devotional singer who died in 1997. His musical journey started with a dream he had of singing in Pakistan’s most famous mosque, and it was something he was able to realize before his untimely death at 49.
The word qawwali means “utterance” in Urdu, and Nusrat was and is the most famousqawwal. I first saw him perform at a fundraiser at the LAX Hilton on behalf of a cancer hospital in Lahore. The speaker was Pakistan’s #1 cricketeer, Imran Khan. My table was besieged by men asking us to raise $5,000, the amount assigned per table. Me and a bunch of music fans and public radio types? No way could we come up with that. Nusrat had food poisoning and looked green onstage. It was not easy for him.
The second time I saw him involved driving to Buena Park for an all-Pakistani show. I recall hundreds of Mercedes in the parking lot but no BMWs. Fans were crumpling up $10-20 bills and throwing them on stage in tribute to the great singer. His next show took him to the former Universal Amphitheater (now Gibson). I didn’t make it to that one.
One time I was playing Nusrat’s music on air when KCRW’s then General Manager Ruth Seymour got a call from her mother, who was put on phone hold while the music was playing. When Ruth picked up the phone, her mom said the music sounded like somebody getting their toenails pulled out. It’s a good thing that not all people hear Nusrat that way. Though often intense, his is a music of peace and love.
Nusrat would try anything musically, which is one reason he became the most famousqawwal. There was the Massive Attack remix of “Mustt Mustt,” and also the fun, crazyBally Sagoo remixes. Don’t be fooled, however. Nusrat also performed powerful, rich devotional music and love songs with his group, as you’ll hear on the first cut by him of this show.
Abida Parveen is the most famous female qawwali vocalist, adored by fans all over the world. I heard her once in Orange County years ago. She has a big voice, perfect pitch, and a powerful, ecstatic delivery. She will occasionally visit the U.S., but you will likely not know about it unless you read the local Pakistani newspapers.
In a 2013 article in the UK paper The Guardian, Parveen said, “My culture–our culture–is rich in spirituality and love. Sufism is not a switch, the music isn’t a show–it’s of life, it is religion. If I want to recognized for anything, if we should be recognized for anything, it’s the journey of the voice. And that voice is God’s.” Qawwali, like gospel music in the U.S., is a communal experience, a joy meant to be shared.
I did not include another famous qawwali group, the Sabri Brothers, because their tracks are super long. Sadly, I recently wrote a post about one of their founding memberswho was murdered by an Islamic extremist. Sufi gospel is a way of getting closer to the divine, both for listeners and performers. Dictatorships and Islamist hardliners don’t like music, don’t trust it either. We’ve seen that in the Soviet Union, Chile, Argentina, Iran, and other places.
For those who don’t know about this powerful and ecstatic music, let it be a reminder that its message of peace and harmony is an antidote to the turmoil in Pakistan that we hear in the news.
Here is a video shot in Pakistan in 1993 of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:
This is a culinary tale–or rather competition–West African style.
Last Sunday morning, I heard a story and song on NPR’s Weekend Edition about a rice rivalry in West Africa, particularly Ghana vs. Nigeria, surrounding a ubiquitous rice dish in the region (Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal) called Jollof. The tune’s nice grooves and rhymes caught my ear, as did the conversation between host Linda Wertheimer and Ofeibia Quist Arcton, the Ghanaian journalist and NPR reporter. (When in Senegal, Quist Arcton finishes her stories with a wonderful flourish: “Ofeibia Quist Arcton, Dahkaaaaaaaaaah.” I’ve always loved her style.)
Ghanain restaurant menu. Photo by Rachel Strohm (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr
The song “Ghana Jollof” is sung by Sister Deborah (b. Deborah Owusu-Bonsu), a popular Ghanain TV host, model, and academic, who holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Arts, London. The lyrics were written by her brother, Wanlov(“one love?”) the Kubolor. The song basically postulates that the Ghanaian version of the rice dish is better than the Nigerian version. The basic ingredients include rice, tomatoes, onion, chili pepper, salt, pepper; Ghanaian and Nigerian versions add goat, lamb, or beef. The Senegalese version (not part of the culinary showdown) uses fish. Between Ghana and Nigeria it’s a competitive recipe, so think West African Top Chef.
Intrigued by the story, I searched for the video and found it online. It’s quirky and fun, and a little mysterious. Why are those guys dressed up as women? Folks are shown on the up-and-up, driving a 6-series BMW convertible.
I had fun with this, and I hope you do too. For those of you interested in trying the dish, here is the Ghanian vegetarian recipe. And the competing Nigerian version:
I know about El Sistema and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra, where Gustavo Dudamel got his training. I also know about his work with YOLA, the Youth Orchestra of LA, something Dudamel was behind creating. Both El Sistema and YOLA give inner city kids a way off the streets into the world of classical music.
With Venezuela in turmoil, the future of El Sistema, funded by oil revenue, may be jeopardized. It seems, however, that like a lesser-known youth orchestra in Tijuana may have a bright future. You don’t typically associate classical music with Tijuana, but the TijuanaYouthOrchestra gives the lie to that assumption.
The story begins in January 1991, when the Soviet Union was breaking up. Eduardo GarciaBarrios was studying conducting in Moscow at the time. Barrios and his musician colleagues wanted to start a youth orchestra somewhere; that somewhere turned out to be a world away, in sunny Baja, Mexico. Barrios, along with a Russian harpist, Elena Mashkovtseva, moved across the globe from icy Russia to Baja, and founded the Baja California Orchestra for adults. The enterprising Barrios also founded REDES2025, a program to train at-risk young people to become classical performers. In a Independent Producer’s Project feature, he told journalist Sam Quinones, “Music has this power. To play music you need discipline, to understand your body. It’s 120 kids doing one thing at the same time…it would be cheaper to make football teams, but music provides something different, spiritual order.”
Those words could have come from the much more famous Gustavo Dudamel. Both men, however, are doing the same thing: transforming young lives with the power of music.
Listen here to the NPR / KCRW feature. And watch a clip of the Tijuana Youth Orchestra — it’s a big orchestra, not as big as the Simón Bolivar, but big nevertheless. Have a look:
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.