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Carrying Afrobeat Forward: Seun Kuti at the Cedar Cultural Center

Seun Kuti may not be his father, but the musical likenesses are intentional. So if you go to the Cedar on Saturday, don’t be surprised to hear Afrobeat, or even some Fela songs. The tradition lives on.

Seun Kuti began performing onstage with his father, the legendary Fela Kuti, at the age of nine and continues to carry forward the Afrobeat mantle of extended jams, tight horn sections, political savvy, and social consciousness. And it’s perhaps his penchant for extended jams that separates him most distinctly from his brother, Femi, at least on recent recordings. Many songs recorded by Seun Kuti clock in near the eight minute mark while Femi Kuti’s latest recording avoids prolonged durations (which was more prominent in his earlier recordings). Perhaps this is due to Seun Kuti’s band, Egypt 80, which features many players who originally played with his father. Fela recorded many songs that he never was able to perform in his lifetime, and Egypt 80 keep these compositions alive, like the inimitable “Shuffering and Shmiling,” a call-to-arms critique of religion and plea for rational thinking.

Duration seems important in discussing Fela Kuti’s music, as his concerts often lasted all night and into the daylight. In that sense, his music seemed to attempt a replacement of regular life, of everyday life, with a new musical state-of-mind that could encompass all waking hours. For him, “music is the weapon.” It is interesting to compare Fela Kuti to Bob Marley, contemporaneous music stars who used their celebrity for political purposes and who also played a huge part in popularizing their respective musical traditions. Both died of terminal illnesses. Whatever their similarities, Fela was undoubtedly more aggressive with his musical visions. His vocal performances were stranger, often veering towards avant/religious glossolalia. In the wake of his explosive musical utopia, it only makes sense that two of his children would find a rich legacy to continue on and reinterpret for present times.

Seun Kuti may not be his father, but the musical likenesses are intentional. So if you go to the Cedar on Saturday, don’t be surprised to hear Afrobeat, or even some Fela songs. The tradition lives on.

Vijay Iyer’s Venn Diagram: Community, Politics, and Activism

In trying to get a clear picture of pianist Vijay Iyer, it’s hard to know which direction to look. His series at the Walker this Thursday and Friday, however, is a start. The two nights reveal a large part of the Venn diagram musical world he inhabits.

In trying to get a clear picture of pianist Vijay Iyer, it’s hard to know which direction to look. His series at the Walker this Thursday and Friday, however, is a start. The two nights reveal a large part of the Venn diagram musical world he inhabits.

Iyer came of age as a jazz musician in the Bay Area, playing with some first-wave avant-garde jazz musicians in the process. In a video for Alverno Presents last year, Iyer spoke about why he chose to be a jazz musician: “I had a lot of amazing experiences playing with elder musicians, in Oakland for example… people who had been part of the history of [jazz] music for decades already. To see the music in motion, to experience it as connected to a community, and also to feel welcome in that place, clinched it for me.”

Wadada Leo Smith, on the program Thursday night, is a professor at CalArts and very much a part of the Bay Area scene that is one part of Iyer’s musical provenance.

On the program Friday night is a duo with Parisian-based hip-hop/spoken word artist Mike Ladd, who Iyer collaborated with on the 2004 album In What Language? based on the airport detention of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (whose smuggled-to-Cannes-on-a-USB-in-a-cake This is Not a Film was Walker film curator Sheryl Mousley’s vote for best film of 2011). Pitchfork wrote:

In April of 2001, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was merely passing through New York’s JFK International Airport, in transit from a film festival in Hong Kong to another in Buenos Aires, when he was detained by the INS for refusing to be fingerprinted, and kept in a crowded holding cell for ten hours. He was ultimately returned to Hong Kong in handcuffs, famously attempting to explain himself to his fellow passengers: “I’m not a thief! I’m not a murderer! I am just an Iranian, a filmmaker. But how could I tell this, in what language?”

The Iyer+Ladd album is a powerful statement, with continuing resonance for “imagining a new moment for community in the post-9/11 world of surveillance of people of color, which has created a force for us coming together,” as Iyer told the Star Tribune Saturday.

Iyer’s experience with and envisioning of community informs his musical work and vice versa. In an interview with Toronto blog The Ethnic Aisle, Iyer said that, “In the Bay Area I connected with Asian Improv Arts. They are community organizers as well as creative musicians, so they dealt with identity in this empowering way. It wasn’t just ornamental, they had this radical sensibility that connected music to activism, so working with elements of your identity or heritage in the music was part of the whole mission and ideology. That was really inspiring; it was a way for me to be myself in the music which I’d never really seen before, at that time.”

Friday night’s show at the Walker will conclude with a set by Tirtha (pronounced THEER-tha), another Iyer trio, featuring Nitin Mitta on table/percussion and Prasanna on guitar and vox. Iyer told the Star Tribune that, “Tirtha to me is a political project because it encourages shared creativity across the South Asian diaspora.” Musically, Tirtha merges Carnatic forms with jazz and “fuse their influences through many other catalysts, including Reichian minimalism and rock,” according to the Guardian.

There was “shared creativity across the South Asian diaspora” also on Vijay Iyer Trio’s 2009 album Historicity, in their cover of M.I.A.’s “Galang.” The Vijay Iyer Trio will presumably be playing many new cuts from their forthcoming album Accelerando (which is scheduled for release March 13) on Thursday night, but I hope they revive this cover for the set.

Iyer’s place in the indie/pop sphere is one aspect of the Venn diagram that won’t be covered in the Walker two-night program. Iyer has collaborated with hip-hop group Das Racist, producing their track “Free Jazzmatazz.” The Independent Film Channel reports that Iyer will also be co-starring in a short film Dosa Hunt, still to-be-released, in which “Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend), Vijay Iyer, Ashok Kondabolu (Das Racist), Alan Palomo (Neon Indian), Amrit Singh (Stereogum), Himanshu Suri (Das Racist), and Anand Wilder (Yeasayer)… pile into a van… looking for the best dosa in New York City.” Iyer also recently contributed a remix of Meredith Monk’s “Rain” for a Meredith Monk remix album produced by DJ Spooky, which also features remixes by Björk and Nico Muhly. Thus the indie/pop connections circle back to the realm of the avant-garde; Vijay Iyer’s musical world might be better described as a Möbius strip than a Venn diagram.

And speaking of Möbius strips, Iyer could tell us a lot about them. He recently led a talk on “Music and Math” at Duke University that featured “a timbre experiment…called ‘a Möbius strip of pitch.’” Iyer completed undergraduate studies at Yale in Math and Physics, and finished his PhD in Technology and the Arts at UC-Berkeley. Thus his choice to play jazz seems significant for what he has left behind, or rather, left on the side. His many musical projects show the potential that music holds for building community and opening up a dialogue about political engagement and activism.

He has said, “Trying to do the impossible is what jazz is to me.”

Excerpts from Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s Story/Time

Even if you missed the open rehearsal last summer, you can still catch a preview of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s Story/Time, which opens tonight at the Walker. Tickets are still available.

Even if you missed the open rehearsal last summer, you can still catch a preview of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s Story/Time, which opens tonight at the Walker.

Tickets are still available.

Mariano Pensotti: Our Love Project Has So Much Potential

Mariano Pensotti listened to Of Montreal’s song “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” “a lot” while he created his theater work coming to the Walker. Pensotti said, “Its excessive duration and ambitious narrative made me feel it [was] close to what I was developing. I decided to use the name and include the lyrics in […]

Mariano Pensotti listened to Of Montreal’s song “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” “a lot” while he created his theater work coming to the Walker. Pensotti said, “Its excessive duration and ambitious narrative made me feel it [was] close to what I was developing. I decided to use the name and include the lyrics in the play when the stories reach their end.”

The song is pretty epic. Check it here:

The Past Is a Grotesque Animal plays the McGuire Theater January 26-28, 2012.

chelfitsch: Mumblechoreography

chelfitsch will return to the Walker three years after their January 2009 presentation of Five Days in March, which was a piece about twenty-somethings shacking up at love hotels at the beginning of the Iraq War. Their work coming to the Walker January 19-21, 2012, is Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and The Farewell Speech; originally […]


chelfitsch will return to the Walker three years after their January 2009 presentation of Five Days in March, which was a piece about twenty-somethings shacking up at love hotels at the beginning of the Iraq War. Their work coming to the Walker January 19-21, 2012, is Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and The Farewell Speech; originally three separate pieces, chelfitsch director Toshiki Okada combined them into a magnum opus of sorts.

chelfitsch’s singular anti-choreograpy emphasizes the ways we are stuck in our bodies, employing a dance vocabulary of formalized awkwardness and hunched postures that registers its relevance in terms of a contemporary experience of youth. If Robert Longo ever choreographed a piece about twenty-somethings stuck in a Japanese temp agency, it would look something like this.

The characters speak in fragmentary sentences and their movement could be called hyper-pedestrian in the ways ordinariness is magnified and repeated until it becomes its own vernacular. chelfitsch’s parallels with the American film sub-genre/phenomenon of Mumblecore seem striking, as relationships and conversations take precedence over narrative cues.  More literally, the company’s name comes from a mumbled, disarticulation of the English word “selfish.”

You can watch snippets of each piece in the video below, made by the Japan Society, with Japan Society Director Yoko Shioya providing some contextualization.

Acclaimed playwright/director of chelfitsch Toshiki Okada will lead an Inside Out There workshop Saturday, January 21 at 11 am. Participants will explore the nature of unconscious physical movements in creating choreography. Open to all levels of movers.

 

Photos by Toru Yokota

Oscillating Absurdities: Beirut’s Rabih Mroue responds to a “traumatized society”

Rabih Mroué— Lebanese visual and performance artist, actor, director, and playwright—is performing Looking for a Missing Employee during the second week of next month’s Out There 2012: Global Visionaries festival. In Looking for a Missing Employee, Mroué performs the role of a multimedia detective mining the fate of one of the tens of thousands of […]

Rabih Mroué— Lebanese visual and performance artist, actor, director, and playwright—is performing Looking for a Missing Employee during the second week of next month’s Out There 2012: Global Visionaries festival. In Looking for a Missing Employee, Mroué performs the role of a multimedia detective mining the fate of one of the tens of thousands of Lebanese people who went missing during the Lebanese Civil War.

Mroué has said, “How can one establish dialogue in a traumatized society, aware of this reality but not falling into the trap of disconsolate mourning, as the politics of memory is often seen today?” He answers partly through the use of absurdity in his work.

 

"Make Me Stop Smoking" 2006, video stills courtesy Rabih Mroué

 

In Mroué’s work Make Me Stop Smoking, he re-casts Freud as a member of Hezbollah, and in I, the Undersigned he “addresses the lack of accountability of those responsible for the Lebanese Civil War by offering his own striking apology.”

"I, the Undersigned" 2007, video stills courtesy Rabih Mroué

 

About his work How Nancy Wished That Everything Was An April Fool’s Joke, the New York Times wrote:

The four characters tell stories of contradiction that ricochet off one another. They will adhere to an ideological position and then change it. They pledge loyalty to a political leader and then betray him. They make allies and then forsake them. They switch sides and get lost. In each story they tell they are killed in battle, only to come back to life again in the next round, like irrepressible players of video games.

With similar irrepressibility, his work Old House (2006) oscillates visually between destruction and composure while Mroué at the same time narrates his own process of “remembering and forgetting.” And in Noiseless (2008) he presents a concocted newspaper article about his own disappearance with an image of himself that eventually blends into the notices of other missing persons until his image evaporates and becomes a void.

 

Born in 1967, Rabih Mroué began his work in plays, performance, and video in 1990, also the year the Lebanese Civil War ended. His emergence marks the aftereffects of a chronically “traumatized society,” one in which absurdity becomes the commensurate accuracy with which to express the loss of a quarter million people, and the tens of thousands disappeared.

Mroué’s investigation of the disappeared of his home country recalls, for me, the desaperacidos of another place, same time (roughly). Pinochet’s regime in Chile began before the Lebanese Civil War and continued over the same time period, with the disappeared in Chile numbering over 3,000. Most of all I am reminded of Roberto Bolaño’s novel Distant Star, which similarly mines the absurdity of (Chile’s) “traumatized society.” Distant Star tells the life story of Lorenzo—an HIV-positive gay artist with no arms who was born into poverty and became an adult at the height of Pinochet’s reign—who commits suicide by jumping into the ocean but who changes his mind at the last minute and swims to the surface using only his torso and legs:  “In the current socio-political climate…committing suicide is absurd and redundant. Better to become an undercover poet.”

Continually plagued by censorship at home, Mroué has freely performed his theater work and exhibited his visual art abroad, including the Istanbul Bienniale (2009), Prefix Institute for Contemporary Art in Toronto, and recently at the Rivington Gallery in London. As part of a U.S. performance debut tour, his engagement at the Walker is from January 12-14 2012 and includes an Inside Out There workshop January 14 , 11 am, where Mroué will present The Pixelated Revolution, a lecture-performance about the impact of mobile phones and social media in the recent Syrian uprising.

 

Metal, Minimalism, Coen Bros Score, Flaming Lips and Christian Field Hollers: The Music of Supernatural Wife

Big Dance Theater Co-Director talks about the music in Supernatural Wife, in a discussion that runs the gamut from Carter Burwell, long-time film score collaborator with the Coen Brothers, to the Dirty Projectors.

Big Dance Theater Co-Director talks about the music in Supernatural Wife, in a discussion that runs the gamut from Carter Burwell, long-time film score collaborator with the Coen Brothers, to the Dirty Projectors.

Parsing Parson and Lazar

Big Dance Theater co-founder Annie-B Parson has said their work “steeps together like a big soup, a magical indescribable morphing.” An impressive number of ingredients have gone into their latest production, Supernatural Wife, and we’ll see if we can pick out some of them during their performances here this Thursday through Saturday. Working from the […]

Big Dance Theater co-founder Annie-B Parson has said their work “steeps together like a big soup, a magical indescribable morphing.”

An impressive number of ingredients have gone into their latest production, Supernatural Wife, and we’ll see if we can pick out some of them during their performances here this Thursday through Saturday. Working from the translation of Euripedes’ Alkestis done by Anne Carson (who will be here Thursday night before the opening of Supernatural Wife), co-directors Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar also took inspiration from many other elements:

  • Yiddish theater actor Solomon Mikhoels’ performance as King Lear, which interested Big Dance because of its larger-than-life qualities. Skipping forward to 3:06 gives a glimpse of this.

  • The “forceful speech patterns of actress Rosalind Russell. In preparing for the title role, performer Tymberly Canale memorized some of Russell’s rapid-fire dialogue from the film His Girl Friday.” Russell’s performance in that film is now in the public domain but below is a video made by the mysterious Italian novelist collective  Wu Ming Foundation that splices together the only minutes of the movie without dialogue: 8 minutes.

 

St. Vincent: Much Buzz

Yesterday St. Vincent had a show on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first musician to ever play there. You can see her in a little over a month here at the Walker, when she plays two back to back shows in the McGuire Theater on October 2—7 pm and 10 pm. […]

Yesterday St. Vincent had a show on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first musician to ever play there. You can see her in a little over a month here at the Walker, when she plays two back to back shows in the McGuire Theater on October 2—7 pm and 10 pm. This Walker show will kick off her fall tour, where she will play behind her new album Strange Mercy (out September 13).

The first video for a track off her new album just premiered. The song is called “Cruel” and you can watch it here:

The new album’s first single, “Surgeon” is a real doozy. Pitchfork recently called it a “powerful and cerebral comeback” and named it one of their Best New Tracks, read the review and listen here.

This video for “Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood” (off her last album Actor) is my personal fave and features two of the Portlandia folks, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, back when they were ThunderAnt.

Workshop and Open Rehearsal with Miguel Gutierrez

                          Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People (his company) are in town. At their free open rehearsal and Q&A next week, Thursday, August 4, at 8 pm, not only will Miguel Gutierrez be performing, but he will be joined in performance by, notably, […]

Miguel Gutierrez (far left) during a 2008 rehearsal at Walker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People (his company) are in town. At their free open rehearsal and Q&A next week, Thursday, August 4, at 8 pm, not only will Miguel Gutierrez be performing, but he will be joined in performance by, notably, Ishmael Houston-Jones and K.J. Holmes, as well as Michelle Boulé, Hillary Clark, and Luke George. Houston-Jones is a Bessie-award winning performer, author, teacher, and arts consultant whose choreographic work includes multiple collaborations with iconic queer novelist Dennis Cooper, and K.J. Holmes is adjunct faculty at NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing whilst exploring simultaneous projects as an independent dancer, singer, poet and body worker. This is a cross-generational choreographic project jam-packed with talented people, and there isn’t even room here to expound on the dazzling resumés of Michelle Boulé, Hillary Clark, and Luke George.

Miguel Gutierrez himself is known primarily for his work as a choreographer and dancer, but he also has investigated a “choreography of the human voice” and recently wrote a book of poems/”Performance Texts” that Eileen Myles thinks is great.

Rather than overshadow this blog with the amazing accomplishments of all the Gutierrez Powerful People, let me say that Miguel Gutierrez’s work is explosive, sexy, spontaneous, and subversive. His recent piece Last Meadow  “mixed movement and words from James Dean’s three movies to look at the myth of America the father, and confusion as a potentially transformative, sensory-enlivened state.”

If you are a mover of any kind, Miguel is leading a workshop this Saturday! And for everyone: the open rehearsal and Q&A is next Thursday. Otherwise you’ll have to wait until Fall 2012 to catch Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People here when they debut And lose the name of action.

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