It’s spring, and a lovely one. The weather is delightful. There are cherry blossoms on the trees (well, the cherry trees), and whole streets are paved in petals. The magnolias too are in bloom, and the dogwoods, and the tulips are getting slightly obscene.
Tonight begins the festival of Diwali (or Deepavali, or Tihar), the South Asian festival of lights. This seems like a perfectly good excuse for digging up a few Indian songs from various corners of the web. I don’t know much about any of these songs, but here goes.
“Diwali Di Rat Deevay,” by Bhai Kanwarpal Singh, is part of Gurmat Sangeet Project, “a grass-roots level effort dedicated to the preservation and propagation of the Gurmat Sangeet tradition, which can be traced all the way back to Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh religion.”
“Deepavali Nee” is on a website called TamilBeat.com and seems pretty contemporary, but I couldn’t find anything beyond that. Info is welcome.
“Deepavali Deepavali” is a mournful song, which seems odd for the holiday, but it’s part of a movie and presumably has something to do with the plot. Sung by Balasaraswati, a famous South Indian dancer (or at least I think it’s the same Balasaraswati; for all I know, finding Balasaraswatis in Hyderabad is like finding guys named Anthony in Brooklyn).
And finally, we come to The Office and its loopy celebration of Diwali. Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Diwali!
Chicago by Sufjan Stevens (Illinois)
Today is Jenny’s first day at her new consulting gig in downtown Chicago, where she will be spending three to four days a week for the rest of the year and possibly beyond.
I know next to nothing about Chicago. I have only been there once, for an evening, and spent it in a depressingly cheesy jazz club. I know they have deep-dish pizza, that the Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueler lived there, that it once burned to the ground long ago, that it was a magnet for the westward migration of Polish and German and Irish and Italian immigrants and a magnet for the northward migration of African-Americans. Martin Luther King, Jr., did poorly there. The buildings downtown were steam-cleaned in the eighties for the filming of The Untouchables. Chicago blues is an electric variety that helped create rock and roll and that has a dangerous tendency to fall into wanky self-parody. Chicago is America’s second city, and the moniker “Windy City” comes from a reference to its politicians, not its weather.
And that’s about it. Trivia, really. None of the living feel of the place. You could drop me in the middle of Jaipur or Seoul without a map and I could find my way, but I’d be hopeless in Chicago.
But like most great cities, Chicago is also a city of the mind, a target of the imagination. In “Baby are Yeng,” Nancy Jacobs and Her Sisters (about whom I could find basically no information) give South African bounce to the very African-American yearning to leave the Jim Crow South behind for better odds in the big city, in what has to be one of the catchiest tunes ever. (Via the inimitable Locust St.) And in “Chicago,” Sufjan Stevens manages to invoke both that city and New York in a story that I don’t understand, but that moves me anyway.
Jenny, I’ll miss you when you’re far away. Have fun!
Spooky Banana: Mr. Firefighter (YouTube)
Humming Urban Stereo is DJ Jeereen, a Korean who seems to be among the first of his countrymen to grasp the poker-faced kitsch approach to pop music that makes certain Japanese bands so hip. “Banana Shake” is a ridiculously charming ditty that seems to be about exactly what you’d think. You can find more Hus music at their MySpace page and at this fan MySpace page, and you can read a bio at KBS World.
“Mr. Firefighter” is a rare glimmer of hope for the continued existence of one of our favorite Korean bands, Spooky Banana, whose CD we picked up in a cool record store on Daehagno (College Street) in Seoul based entirely on how much we dug the name of the band. Apparently the song has found its way onto a recent arcade release of the video game Pump It Up, which is a Korean knock-off of Dance Dance Revolution.
1-20 Raga (YouTube)
Sing it to anyone who grew up in America who grew up in the 1970s and their eyes light up: “One-two-three-FOUR-five, six-seven-eight-NINE-ten, eleven-twelve!” This gem of a segment is quite possibly the funkiest music ever produced for children — funkier even than Roosevelt Franklin, that now-bizarre Muppetary exemplar of Black Power — and it has stuck with us through all these years, lodged firmly in our imaginations. (Click here and here to see examples of the shorter original segments.)
It wasn’t just the music, of course. Those animations are seriously groovy. But the music was key. And those solo sections aren’t exactly easy listening, either. Sesame Street was training our ears for the sophisticated sounds of post-Bitches Brew electro-jazz.
Less widely remembered is the “1-20 Raga,” a nugget of sitar-driven psychedelia that may well have been my first exposure to South Asian culture. Whether the pungent atmosphere of Marin County in those days contributed to my particular appreciation of this clip is an open question, but certainly it stayed with me. In fact, it’s the Indian bits that remained in my memory all these years — the sitar, the morphing Mughal patterns; I had forgotten the insipid vocal and the number-factory setting.
Sesame Street was and remains an extraordinary tool for reaching out to the very young with challenging material. As music classes are cut across America, it may be one of the last places capable of reaching little kids with sophisticated music.
Bonus for Jenny: How Crayons Are Made (YouTube)
Silent Night | The Baby Jesus | Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer | Noël | Little Drummer Boy | Jingle Bells | White Christmas | Santa Claus Is Coming to Town | Love Is | The Three Wise Men by 슬기둥 (Sulgidoong) (캐롤집 [Carol House]) (Via Music from Korea)
Happy Yule! The actual solstice will take place at 7:22 pm this evening.
Happy Chanukah! Tonight we will light seven candles, and tomorrow night will be the full eight (in both cases not counting the shamash, which is used to light and stand guard over the other candles).
And a few days early, a Merry Christmas! We’ll be spending ours with Jenny’s niece Emily, some aunts we don’t know, and a pot roast. We do not expect the pot roast to survive.
Today’s musical selection is an unusual twist on the old (and not-so-old) Christmas carols. Seulgidoong is, according to the only information I could find, “a leading modern chamber ensemble devoted to popularization of traditional music by modernizing it. Its 9 members have given distinguished performances of their unique music. They combine traditional music and new world of music in a unique way to create an original repertoire.” Sure. I’m not convinced it’s genius or anything, but hey, how many times have you heard “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” played on gayageum and geomungo?
When I was younger, rock concerts were major events in my life. I would find out about a show through a listing in BAM or the Guardian, buy my tickets early and let the anticipation build over weeks or even months. Against the backdrop of tedious mediocrity that was high school, an upcoming concert was a glowing beacon, a reminder that there was a grander, funkier, freakier world out there and that I could access it if I wanted to. Going to these concerts, I knew I was a part of something larger than myself. And back in high school afterwards, I would be sustained by the secret knowledge I’d gained at the Stone or the Omni or the Phoenix Theatre, seeing Primus or Soundgarden or Fungo Mungo: I am not like the rest of you. This is not my whole world.
Once I had a car, concerts became less of a big deal to get to, and consequently less of a big deal. What had once been a breakthrough to an ecstatic new world was now a mostly enjoyable but fairly regular amusement. Once I moved to New York in ’93, concerts became even less meaningful. Try as I might, I failed to find any scene in New York that could stand up to the multi-ethnic, genre-muddling loopiness of the Bay Area. Where bands back home wore wild costumes and leaped around like lunatics, the East Coast scene seemed to require that bands dress badly and stand around looking bored.
Concerts still involved painful noise, crowds, cigarette smoke, long lines, overpriced tickets, late nights, sweat, bad drinks and horrendous opening acts, but the payoff was less. I no longer needed rock concerts to help me locate myself in the world or feel cool.
I’ve been to plenty of concerts in the years since then by artists I really like, but it’s rare that I’ve felt that old sense of anticipation. Today, though, it’s back. Tonight, I’m going to see Gogol Bordello at Irving Plaza, and I feel the giddy thrill of adventure in store. Check out the live clips and you’ll see why.
Bonus: Not a Crime (Video)
Katamari Damacy is a surreal Japanese video game whose name means “the spirit of clumping,” or more simply, “clump spirit.” The goal of the game and the mode of play are fairly simple but different from anything else I’ve ever played: you roll a ball (the katamari) around various environments, picking up all kinds of objects as you go — paper clips, people, elephants, chopsticks. As you collect objects, the katamari grows, allowing you to pick up ever bigger items. (You can see what this actually looks like here.) The game is presided over by a king whose speaking voice is record scratching and who either praises your success or shoots lasers out of his eyes when you fail. (He also has great legs and a psychedelic cylindrical pillow permanently lodged behind his head.)
What makes the game so compelling is the elaborate, creative, surreal universe in which you operate — not to mention its zany, sometimes dark humor — and part of that effect is achieved by the music, which consists of thoroughly loopy J-pop and a pair pieces for full orchestra, recorded with appropriate theatrical bombast.
I wish I could tell you who the artists are, but I can’t find that information anywhere. Still, you can buy the soundtrack at YesAsia.com.
02. Katamari on the Rocks
03. Overture II
04. Katamari on the Swing
05. Kurukuru Rock
06. Everlasting Love
07. Tsuyogari Katamari
08. Beautiful Star
09. Heaven’s Rain
11. Blue Orb
12. Katamari Holiday
13. Baby Universe
14. Disco x Prince
15. Killing Hot Savannah
16. The Royal Academy of Katamari
17. King of Kings’ Song
Thanks to DKNY for the link, and for introducing me to the game.
Twelve long years have passed since Portishead first unleashed Dummy upon an unsuspecting world, tapping into a deep, hitherto unnoticed craving for ethereal female vocals over moody, noir-tinged tracks with sophisticated electronic production and hip-hop beats. Eight years after Portishead’s final album, the revelatory PNYC Live, where can one turn to satisfy this peculiar, overly specific jones?
Well, if you’re willing to forgo the extraordinary Portishead scratching in favor of some sitar and don’t mind your spy movie music taking on an Austin Powers vibe, I suggest you give Anjali a try.
Formerly the drummer in UK Riot Grrl band the Voodoo Queens, Anjali Bhatia now claims descent from the Bhatti line of maharajas of Jaisalmer. Whether that’s true or not, her music has ventured as far from Riot Grrl radicalism as her identity. One can hear traces not only of UK trip-hop, but also of Cibo Matto and other late-nineties electronic experimenters, not to mention heavy doses of Anglo-Indian fusion, tinged with old-fashioned Bollywood goodness.
At very long last, I think I’ve found an online copy of the video for “Muomnika?” (“뭡니까?”) by Shim Tae-yoon (심태윤) that can actually be watched by people without the South Korean citizen ID number required to log in to many Korean sites.
Go here and click on the image of the guy with the afro who’s saluting.
Once you’ve installed all the various ActiveX controls, you should see an unattractive man chatting amiably in a language you don’t understand. Be patient. He babbles for a minute or two, but then comes the video. It’s not exactly genius or anything, but it’s a helluva catchy tune, and Shim’s goofy little dance, silly afro and M-pants are what it’s really all about. That and the Korean raggamuffin rapper with the fur gloves.
Oh, and just so you know, the name of the song means “What is it?”