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“I Don’t Mind a Detour”: An Interview with Douglas Ewart

Douglas Ewart is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and past president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He sat down with Sam Segal and Mark Mahoney, the hosts of Radio K’s jazz program Sound Grammar, for an interview ahead of his March 5 Sound Horizon performance at the Walker. You can listen to […]

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Douglas Ewart. Photo: courtesy the artist

Douglas Ewart is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and past president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He sat down with Sam Segal and Mark Mahoney, the hosts of Radio K’s jazz program Sound Grammar, for an interview ahead of his March 5 Sound Horizon performance at the Walker. You can listen to the interview on the Walker Channel.

My first experience with Douglas Ewart’s music came through Voice Prints, a recording he did in 2008 at the Walker with one of my musical heroes, Yusef Lateef, along with percussionist Adam Rudolph and Ewart’s AACM colleague Roscoe Mitchell. The music I discovered was deeply spiritual, a quest for serenity that never loses its intensity. In this performance alone Ewart plays sopranino saxophones, C flute, glass didgeridoo, voice, bass clarinet, gongs, bells, percussion, sirens, bass transverse flute, bamboo flutes, and something called the Ewart Hotchiku. Yet, his clear virtuosity on all of these instruments never seems to overwhelm the ensemble’s sense of collectivity, and when I had the pleasure of meeting him to record this interview, I wasn’t surprised to encounter a remarkably humble and thoughtful artist.

Ewart has lived mostly in the Twin Cities since moving up north from Chicago in the early ‘90s, and as a past president of the AACM, he has provided the local creative music scene with a connection to one of the pillars of the 20th Century avant-garde. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the AACM this year, Ewart spoke to me and my co-host Mark Mahoney about the Chicago collective’s impact on his own artistic approach, the supposed “Jazz Tradition,” and the Twin Cities artistic community.

We also went into depth on Ewart’s childhood in Kingston, Jamaica, where not only did his involvement in the Rastafarian movement in the early ‘60s put him in direct contact with the Nyabinghi drum music of the legendary Count Ossie  but he was also exposed to U.S. jazz titans like John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. We learned that as a teenager living in Chicago, it was Ewart’s vocational schooling as a craftsman that would inform his artistic practices as a sculptor and a maker of musical instruments today.

Last June, I attended The Audible Edge, an exhibition at the Nash Gallery that included one of Ewart’s sculptures, a rain stick he had crafted as a tribute to Trayvon Martin. When we asked him about the socio-political themes in his work, Ewart elaborated eloquently on his concerns over the continued dangers faced by young black men in America, as well as the issues he focuses on in his upcoming Sound Horizon piece: gender equality and water conservation.

For his Sound Horizon performance, Ewart will be playing alongside longtime collaborators, percussionist Stephen Goldstein and vocalist/poet Mankwe Ndosi. When asked what we could expect from the piece, Ewart couldn’t make too many promises. “[Performing] reminds me of going on a journey, and you journey to a particular place, maybe to see a particular item,” he said, “And someone tells you about something else, and you only have that moment to make up your mind….I don’t mind a detour….I often get lost on journeys, because I’ll take the other path.”

Listen to the entire conversation here.

Douglas Ewart performs in the Walker galleries at 6 pm, 7 pm, and 8 pm on Thursday, March 5 as a part of the Sound Horizon series.

A Love Supreme: Danny Sigelman on The Campbell Brothers

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, artist, DJ, musician, and writer Danny Sigelman shares his perspective on The Campbell […]

The Campbell Brothers. Photo: Courtesy the artists

The Campbell Brothers. Photo: Courtesy the artists

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, artist, DJ, musician, and writer Danny Sigelman shares his perspective on The Campbell Brothers’ performance of A Love Supreme last night. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

One of the more anticipated performances during the chilly Winter this year finally came to fruition as The Campbell Brothers performed a spiritually enlightened set in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater last night. The centerpiece of the evening was the American Sacred Steel family’s recently commissioned celebration of saxophonist John Coltrane’s hallmark work, A Love Supreme, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month.

Appropriately, the brothers were chosen by the Lincoln Center and Duke University to perform the classic piece, but utilizing a seemingly unlikely set of instruments, primarily the pedal steel guitar. Interestingly, the combination of the spiritually inclined instrument, commonly used in the church and the personal faith of brothers, Chuck, Darick, and Phillip Campbell, integrated beautifully with Coltrane’s original inspiration for the entire performance. While Phillip on guitar led most of the show in addressing the audience with his son Carl on drums and bassist Daric Bennett consistently holding down the rhythm, it was Chuck Campbell on pedal steel that musically shined throughout the night.

The group paced the evening by getting the audience warmed up with a series of gospel-inspired blues from their own songbook. Illustrating the origins and connection of Coltrane’s melding of the traditional forms of the blues and his own Christian beliefs, it was the perfect primer for the main course of the evening.

Taking the stage and rubbing their guitars with their fingers to warm up their strings, Phillip nodded toward the round of applause from the audience, “Thanks for the warm welcome in the cold weather.”

Showing their roots with ease, The Campbell Brothers gave the audience a slow building version of “Wade in the Water”. All the strings on stage in unison wonderfully played counterpoint to one another as melodies sprang against a chugging rhythm reflecting a true blues spirit. Finding their own groove, the audience  morphed into a sea of smiles and hand claps as Chuck took flight with a solo of rising notes that sounded like a soul singer.

Complementing the train whistle sounds from Chuck’s pedal steel, Philip provided narration on “Morning Train”. As a musical family their effortless transitions and trading of solos showed the real supportive nature of the group as the music carried the audience along for the countrified gospel number. Playing mostly rhythm, the song allowed for Philip to rise up from his chair as he charged through his own guitar solo, tearing through some serious soaring lead guitar work.

“When we go to church, we clap. We stand up. We shout along, run around the room. Whatever we need to do to show our love for the Lord. This is active music!” Philip preached, inspiring some call and response during “Hell no! Heaven yes!”

Chuck’s tone turned to a more rural blues sound, sounding like a harmonica with waning flourishes of movement across the strings of pedal steel he elicited screeching melodies atop the chugging rhythm as everyone sang along.

Calming things down, the Campbell Brothers gave grace to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”. With Darick Campbell taking the lead melody with incredible lyricism, he made his instrument sing. Amid fluttering notes and a sustained, laid back energy that he pleasantly gave to the song, the Campbell Brothers showed the true gospel roots of Cooke.

Conjuring the true spirit of John Coltrane’s music, Chuck conceptually uplifted the feeling in the room with flurries of melodic clusters that echoed and gave a nod to Coltrane’s famous sheets of sound. After an elongated musical introduction the Campbell Brothers seemed to begin breathing life into the music. As the familiar mantra from Coltrane’s piece took musical shape on stage, the audience gleefully applauded and the rhythm section kicked in with a steady beat to support the flowing melodies between the instruments.

The bass held down an astute blues punch as the brothers led the meditative chant, “A Love Supreme” in unison, eventually inspiring the entire audience to sing along. It was a highly gratifying moment that was only a priming of the canvas the Campbell Brothers would eventually unravel as the song moved forward.

Much like Jimmy Garrison performed on record 50 years ago, bassist Daric Bennett took his turn for the “Resolution” section, holding onto the spiritual vibe of the song. For a rewarding solo that inspired shouts from the audience, even the band would shout their approval before Bennett returned to the main riff to a round of applause.

Blasting the primary melody of section, all three brothers incited an atmospheric but charging progression that coalesced in Philip’s slaying guitar solo to which Chuck brought out the gospel soul of his pedal steel.

Similarly Carl Campbell echoed Elvin Jones famous drum solo to introduce “Persuance”. Making his portion his own, he combined a steady hi-hat pattern that rapidly returned to his snare and back again. In odd time signature he attacked with sixteenth notes and aggressive bass drum that transitioned to again support the vamping his the rest of the band re-introduced with gospel coloring that lead back into the main melody. A woman in the front sang her praise with her arms lifted in the air; the rest of the audience passionately showed their own appreciation.

The frantic gallop urged the spirit of Coltrane and Philip again took another driving guitar solo that howled in devotion, as Chuck responded in standing virtually atop his lap steel, almost tipping it over entirely.

To wrap up the famous work the band brought back a steady blues. Chuck and Darick’s steel took to the sound of birds as the rhythm dissipated into cymbal washes and deep tones. The band began to sound like a gospel choir rounding out a hymn that left the exhausted audience with contentment and deep recognition. Taking in the audience’s standing ovation, the Campbell Brothers nodded humbly toward the crowd.

Acknowledging the audience, Philip sounded overwhelmed, “We’re really thankful to be here with you and we really appreciate your applause. Playing this music we really feel a connection to the music. We feel what Coltrane felt in being thankful to be in touch with the love supreme.”

Taking the room back to church, the Campbell Brothers rounded out the night with a soulful groove and encouraged everyone to clap and get up and move. Dancers bounced in the upper levels and soon the whole audience was clapping along as Darick sang, “Did you have a good time? Everyone lift your hands up in the air, wave them like you just don’t care!”

Like a true gospel revival the band kept the song going, all trading leads and keeping the audience on their feet before finally bringing the music to full throttle boil. Further displaying his abilities to make his instrument sing, Chuck ran up and down the scales with an avalanche of notes that brought the whole band to a final burst to finish off the incredible evening.

It was a fantastic night with the Campbell Brothers and well worth the wait. Anyone who was fortunate to brave the cold to come out to witness the music left the room truly uplifted. The band, genuinely kind and thankful for the response, left the stage and went out into the audience to shake hands and have pleasant exchanges that only further warmed the room and spirit of the night.

Coltrane’s Sacred Testimony: The Campbell Brothers Preach A Love Supreme

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” —Psalm 98:4, King James Version On February 26 in the McGuire Theater, brothers Chuck, Darick, and Phil Campbell will take the stage to set steel to steel in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the release […]

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The Campbell Brothers. Photo: Gene Tomko

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” —Psalm 98:4, King James Version

On February 26 in the McGuire Theater, brothers Chuck, Darick, and Phil Campbell will take the stage to set steel to steel in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the release of John Coltrane’s seminal work, A Love Supreme. The Campbell Brothers are some of the world’s foremost practitioners of the “Sacred Steel” tradition, a strain of African-American gospel in which the organ and the choir are cast aside in favor of an ensemble of wailing and preaching lap steel guitars. With countless reinterpretations of A Love Supreme already in existence—in every medium imaginable and by everyone from choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker to poet Michael S.Harper—some might be bold enough to ask, “Is there really anything left to say about A Love Supreme?” When it comes to the Campbell Brothers’ version, the question of what they can say about the music becomes irrelevant. But things get a lot more interesting when you ask, “What can the Campbell Brothers do with A Love Supreme?”

It’s been much discussed how Coltrane’s Christian background influenced him on A Love Supreme. His grandfathers on both sides were ministers in the African Methodist Episcopal church, and while the AME has a less affective and flamboyant style of worship than the House of God, Keith Dominion church that the Campbell Brothers come from, the musicality of the preachers Coltrane saw growing up no doubt had an influence on the album. As musicologist Lewis Porter notes, Coltrane’s playing on the piece’s final movement, “Psalm,” is essentially a recitation of the self-written poem he included in the album’s liner notes. Coltrane himself refers to “Psalm” in his own outline for A Love Supreme (below) as a “musical recitation of prayer by horn.” Porter points out that this recitation follows the basic “tonal system” of the chanted oral sermon1.

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Manuscript of A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane, 1964, Photo: Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History via Flickr Creative Commons

The technique of preaching through the instrument has been one of the defining elements of Sacred Steel music ever since pioneering  steel guitarist Brother Willie Eason first performed “Just A Closer Walk with Thee” by “speaking the lyrics slowly while playing slurred passages on the top string of the steel guitar to make the instrument ‘talk,’” according to Sacred Steel historian Robert Stone2. These technical and structural parallels allow the Campbell Brothers to channel the Christian spirituality embedded in Coltrane’s piece.

The kinship between A Love Supreme and the music of the Sacred Steel tradition extends beyond technique. Both the House of God church service and the recording of a jazz record like A Love Supreme are occasions of structured improvisation. Just as Coltrane twists, mutates, and builds upon his composed themes in search of spiritual transcendence and knowledge, the Sacred Steel band leader will extend and improvise on sermons and spirituals while members of the congregation give personal testimony and seek the Holy Ghost3.  There is a shared balance between intensity and meditation in the music of Coltrane and the Campbell Brothers. Professor Tommy L. Lott remarks that Coltrane’s saxophone playing features the same fiery intensity of African-American church singing, “with no overriding concern for pitch or intonation”4. Yet, the space for tender, melodic beauty is also made in Sacred Steel music, as well A Love Supreme, in order to heighten the intensity later on. In an interview, Bishop Charles E. Campbell, father of the Campbell Brothers, talks about a technique he taught his sons called “the breakdown”:

When you get it in high and everybody’s jumpin’ and getting emotional with you, we say, “Break it down. Lower it down.” Put in a certain thing…something touching that people can relate to. And they start thinking about the Lord and themselves and how far they’re down, and how they need to be lifted up…5

Coltrane and his band toy with energy in the same way throughout the piece. Clearly, there a number of ways in which we can see John Coltrane and the Campbell Brothers operating within the same musical, cultural, and spiritual framework.

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John Coltrane, A Love Supreme, 1965, Photo: Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

But the question remains: What are the Campbell Brothers doing with Love Supreme? Since Coltrane’s premature death in 1967, he has been mythologized perhaps more than any other figure in jazz. A Love Supreme is a central component of that myth, acting as a testament to Coltrane’s individual spirituality, a manifesto for his personal belief system. Coltrane himself seems to have wanted the album to be taken this way on some level. A Love Supreme is one of the only albums Coltrane ever wrote the liner notes for himself. These liner notes create a uniquely autobiographical context for the listener’s interpretation of the music6. He positions the album as a demonstration of his faith in God in the face of his struggles with drug addiction. At times, Coltrane explicitly asks us to see his music as personal testimony. In an interview with Newsweek from December 12, 1966, he said, “My music is the spiritual expression of what I am—my faith, my knowledge, my being.”

In his book Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album, Musicologist Tony Whyton asks why we view the studio recording of A Love Supreme as the essential document of the piece, when live jazz is so often hailed as the most authentic way to experience the genre and plenty of recordings of Coltrane performing the piece live have been released. Ultimately, he concludes:

Within the studio recording of A Love Supreme, the absence of the visual and the control of Coltrane’s sound creates a context for music to be experienced as more profound and mysterious. In many ways, the album transcends its status as a physical object to become something more symbolic, a reified object and associated set of events that bring us closer to Coltrane’s dialogue with God than any live performance could7.

Again, it seems that this album is continually experienced as a piece of testimony by John Coltrane. When we listen to the December 9, 1964 studio recording of A Love Supreme, it almost feels as if we are eavesdropping on Trane as he sings his song of praise.

The Campbell Brothers, however, are less concerned with the audience witnessing their testimony. In the Sacred Steel churches, the band acts as a facilitator for the spiritual experiences of the congregation. A steel guitarist measures his success by how much he moves the congregation, not by how well he can communicate his own faith8. The Campbell Brothers manage to turn the isolated personal statement of John Coltrane into a tool for creating a more communal spiritual experience. They can turn the holy experience of listening to Coltrane’s prayer alone in a bedroom into something shared, public, and no less sacred.

 FOOTNOTES

1 Porter, Lewis. “John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’: Jazz Improvisation as Composition.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 38.3 (1985): 593–621.

2 Stone, Robert L. Sacred Steel inside an African American Steel Guitar Tradition. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2010. 75.

3 Ibid 34

4 Lott, Tommy. “When Bar Walkers Preach: John Coltrane and the Crisis of the Black Intellectual.” John Coltrane & Black America’s Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music. Ed. Leonard L. Brown. New York: Oxford U, 2010. 115.

Stone, Robert L. Sacred Steel inside an African American Steel Guitar Tradition. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2010. 51.

Whyton, Tony. Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album. New York: Oxford U, 2013. 28–29.

Ibid 33

Stone, Robert L. Sacred Steel inside an African American Steel Guitar Tradition. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2010. 50.

….

The Campbell Brothers will perform John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, along with a selection of gospel and spiritual works from their repertoire, on Thursday, February 26 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.   

2014: The Year According to Grant Hart

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Tiffany Malakooti and artist Alejandro Cesarco to animator Miwa Matreyek and futurist Nicolas Nova—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to       […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Tiffany Malakooti and artist Alejandro Cesarco to animator Miwa Matreyek and futurist Nicolas Nova—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 . 

Best known as a founding member of the fabled punk band Hüsker Dü (with Bob Mould and Greg Norton), Grant Hart is a drummer, songwriter, vocalist, and founder of the band Nova Mob (1989–1994). In 2013 he released his fourth solo album, The Argument, a 20-song double album inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost and “Lost Paradise,” a short story reinterpreting Milton’s classic, by his friend, William S. Burroughs. Next June, Hart will be featured in WISE BLOOD, an immersive second-line opera and exhibition based upon the southern gothic novel by Flannery O’Connor. The work, co-commissioned by the Walker Art Center and The Soap Factory (where it will be presented), features music by Anthony Gatto, a visual installation by Chris Larson, a cast of singers, brass bands, percussion lines, string players, and singers. Hart will play the role of blind street preacher Asa Hawks.


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William S. Burroughs, 1977. Photo: Wikipedia

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As time goes by, more young people are surprised by the fact that William S. Burroughs actually wrote books and wasn’t just a freaky old man who influenced Kurt Cobain. True, the happiest looking photos of Kurt show him at William’s home looking out from Bill’s home made orgone accumulator. William loved interaction with intelligent creative people, and to this day any gathering at a Burroughs event continues this tradition.

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Jeff Petrich’s “Smoke and Croak”

Minneapolis’s West Bank has seen a lot over the years, but its Golden Age was long ago. During its heyday it was Mecca for jazz and folk artists who frequented the bars and cafes. A local fellow did his art there, producing an illustrated calendar for the Triangle Bar which featured photos of locals as well as notables from the outside world.

Jeff Petrich died this year. His death capped off a great year in which he showed his artwork in Finland as well as participating in a group show at the Belmore in Minneapolis.

When he suspected something was wrong, Jeff walked to Hennepin County Medical Center and was eventually told that he had cancer in more places than you can count with both hands. Treatment was as debilitating as the disease. Heroically, Jeff embarked on a project with his son William and William’s mother, Marie.  Entitled “Smoke and Croak,” this mission involved creating as much art as they could, smoking as much cannabis as he wished, and spending all of his time with the people who loved him the most. He stared death in the face, and I would not doubt if he saw death blink. There will be an exhibition of his work in 2015.

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Avjar. Photo: Ivana Sokolović, Flickr, used under Creative Commons license

Ajvar

September is the beginning of Ajvar (pronounced eye-var) season in Croatia. Sometimes ajvar is called “Yugoslavian caviar.” I think the reason for this is because people love to eat it rather than due to any snob appeal it might have. It is a simple paste made from roasted peppers, eggplant, and olive oil. Simple to make but recipes for making it will stray from that simplicity and suggest adding things that don’t belong in ajvar. It is not meant to be hot, but it’s warm and savory, rich and satisfying.

Nearly every Balkan country claim it as theirs. I have had it from northern Croatia to Bulgaria and it varies little from place to place.

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Stargaze

This is a group with roughly 20 members who rotate depending on the size required and the instruments involved. Stargaze teams up with songwriters to perform their music with an orchestra who shares this dream. I had the pleasure of spending a week with these fine players rehearsing and performing two concerts and watching them working with others.

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Haldern Pop

Situated near Cologne, Germany, the town of Haldern rolls up its sleeves every August and puts on what is arguably the most pleasant music festival in the world. Three days of music every year since 1984, Haldern Pop is devoid of billboard-sized corporate logos and all of the nonsense that distracts from a good musical experience. Set in a huge equestrian park, there is a very large stage and a “spiegel tent,” an antique portable venue that collapses to fit on a semi trailer. Off site in the town center are a bar and a 12th-century church that feature music indoors. Most of the tickets for next year have already been purchased.

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The “Joan Anderson letter,” written from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac. Photo: TIME

The Joan Anderson Letter

The very recent re-discovery of this legendary letter by Neil Cassady to a girlfriend, Joan Anderson has the world of literature flipping. Cassady was the inspiration for the Sal Paradise character in Jack Kerouak’s much overrated On the Road. For the rest of Kerouak’s life, people assumed that he was Paradise and Cassady went on and eventually was the bus driver for Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. Justice will be served by the attention this discovery brings to Cassady as the master of hip argot.

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RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic

Titanic Controversy

With each passing year, more people are coming around to the theory that the White Star liner Olympic was switched for the Titanic and sunk in her place by swindling board members of a huge multinational cabal. Much like 9/11 and JFK, the sinking that shocked the world has captivated folks who won’t believe that anything or anyone so great could be brought down by simple means or by simple men. Such is the nature of men and myth.

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Still from Heavy Rotation (2011), featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial

Whitney Biennial

This year I had the honor of attending this Super Bowl of American art with one of the featured artists, Chris Larson of St. Paul. Work by Charline von Heyl stole my heart like little else, but I was there for the shrimp.

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Union Depot, St. Paul

It was the largest building I ever saw when my family saw my brother off on his trip to Seattle in 1967 from this landmark. Back then, the gleaming brass of the William Crooks Locomotive was on display to excite the fantasy of a six year old and the ceilings looked as high as the sky. The first train in Minnesota, the Crooks is now at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth and the station in St. Paul has assumed its place as the gateway to the city once again.

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The new Vikings stadium under construction. Photo: Lars Hammar, Flickr, used under Creative Commons License

Stadium construction

Whoever thought that blackmail could be so pretty! As a lifelong believer that professional sports should house themselves and not be parasites sucking resources from the city, I was surprised to see how visually stimulating the tower cranes and skeleton of the new downtown stadium are. Stadiums are much more attractive than low income housing or new schools with good teachers. The salaries paid to pro athletes are sometimes greater than the cost of building a school, but who needs schools when you can be Champions!

The Ecstatic Celebration: Omar Souleyman at The Cedar

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker Performing Arts Intern Sam Segal shares his perspective on Omar Souleyman at the […]

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Omar Souleyman; Photo: Molly Hanse

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker Performing Arts Intern Sam Segal shares his perspective on Omar Souleyman at the Cedar. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

In Modern Standard Arabic, the word “Hafla (حفلة)” carries the sense of both the English words “Concert” and “Party.” It might be more accurate then to refer to Syrian singer and electro-dabke wizard Omar Souleyman’s performance to a packed crowd at the Cedar on Friday night as a hafla. Slowly traipsing back and forth across the stage, Souleyman led one of the most frenzied and ecstatic dance parties I’ve ever seen in the Twin Cities. When I saw this crowd of supposedly reserved Minnesotans losing their minds like a bunch raving club kids to Souleyman’s synthesis of traditional Levantine celebration music and Western electronic dance music, I have to say I was a bit relieved.

International pop artists like Omar Souleyman are so often positioned as mere intellectual curiosities by Western press and promoters. A lot of the discussion around Souleyman seems to amount to little more than saying, “He wears a keffiyeh  and he makes electronic dance music?! How fascinating?!” When people come to shows expecting to see some think piece of a pop performance, they’re rarely ready to dance. In July, I was lucky enough to see the legendary Ethiopian pop star Mahmoud Ahmed at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. Sadly, while Ahmed and his band were laying down the rawest gutbucket grooves, most of the people in the crowd were standing stiff, flaccidly nodding their heads, or taking Instagram photos. It took over half a set of the 73-year-old Ahmed’s desperate coaxing before the audience allowed itself to stop observing and start participating (I don’t think it helped matters that two hardly-danceable free jazz trios served as the opening acts that night). Thankfully, those who attended Omar Souleyman’s party in Minneapolis came to play.

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Vacation Dad; Photo: Sam Segal

The hyperactive cosmic slop of opening performer Vacation Dad provided a perfect entry point for the night’s festivities. Vacation Dad, the project of producer Andy Todryk, ramped up the BPMs on the spaced-out electronic exotica of his recordings in favor of lush, drop-heavy dance music. After a short set of Bernie Worrell meets Diplo magic, Vacation Dad cleared the stage for the man we were all here to see.

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Rizan Sa’id; Photo: Sam Segal

Building up the tension with the skill of a true showman, the performance began with Souleyman’s master keyboardist, Rizan Sa’id, alone on stage. Over the years, Souleyman’s band has trimmed down to the solo accompaniment of Sa’id, who somehow manages to conjure an entire dabke orchestra on two old Korgs. With a slow, somber melody emanating from the keyboard, Souleyman’s ghostly Arabic greeted the crowd from somewhere offstage. “He’s saying, ‘Goodmorning,’” a guy next to me told a child near him. The guy continued to translate Souleyman’s speech for another minute, but eventually he gave up, telling the child to “think of the words as music.”

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Omar Souleyman and Rizan Sa’id; Photo: Sam Segal

Over the years, Souleyman has replaced all traditional instrumentation with electronics, leading him to develop a totally unique style of manically sped up, overdriven dabke music. In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, he referred to this style as a sport: “The fast music is a kind of sport, it makes you move—it’s like any sport where you jump or run. And it’s the same for the audience as well; they tend to dance even more to the fast music.” Well, if this concert was a sport, then Souleyman was our haggard veteran coach, effortlessly conducting our boisterous participation with stoic hand gestures and the occasional affirmative grin. We clapped when he clapped, and we shouted back in call-and-response joy when he pointed the mic towards us (no doubt botching the Arabic phrase he was looking for).

Throughout the show, I was doing my best to try and figure out which songs Souleyman was pulling from his massive catalog, but outside of the fact that I don’t speak Arabic, I could hardly quit clapping and jumping up-and-down long enough to even try. I’d come in with all sorts of political questions: What does it mean that Souleyman is performing music that is increasingly becoming a historical artifact with the devastation caused by the civil war in Syria? Does it matter that this audience might not understand the ethnomusicological context of his music? How much will a Western audience project its stereotypes of Arab identity onto him? But when the skittering beat took over and Souleyman’s gruff voice began calling out poetry I could only understand as another musical instrument, those questions really didn’t seem relevant. What was relevant was the moment and the simple awe of watching a pop star at the height of his powers leading a crowd in communal celebration.

Winter Processes: Dawn of Midi + Nils Frahm

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Saturday night’s performances by Dawn of Midi and […]

Dawn of Midi (left to right: Qasim Naqvi,  Aakaash Israni, Amino Belyamani).  Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

Dawn of Midi (left to right: Qasim Naqvi, Aakaash Israni, Amino Belyamani). Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Saturday night’s performances by Dawn of Midi and Nils Frahm, a Walker co-presentation with the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Dysnomia, the second full-length album from Brooklyn-based experimental trio Dawn of Midi, is a single suite made up of nine individual tracks. On paper, it’s avant-garde jazz informed by classical minimalism, a 47 minute record that works just as well in headphones as it does on a loud stereo. In person, it’s a stirring and immersive nine-part cycle.

Bassist Aakaash Israni starts, and Amino Belyamani joins shortly thereafter on electric piano. Both repeat one note over and over. Qasim Naqvi then enters with a bass drum, creating an off-kilter polyrhythmic structure. From here the band’s sound transforms further: it’s jazz, then funk, techno, math rock. At times, I’m not sure whether I trust my own ears.

As their final song (“Dysnomia”) grew softer, I thought I heard the sound of a low-quality cell phone video a few rows behind me. But I was wrong. Actually, I was only hearing the soft ambient chatter and bar sounds from the back of the venue. After spending an hour immersed in Dawn of Midi’s intricate rhythmic structures, my sonic palette had been completely jarred.

Nils Frahm. Photo courtesy the artist

Nils Frahm. Photo courtesy the artist

Berlin-based composer Nils Frahm‘s most recent work is Spaces, an album which juxtaposes the analog and digital, live and studio, acoustic and electronic. Though occasionally referred to as  modern classical, it also touches on minimal synth, glitch, and even dub. It is a testament to his music’s versatility and precision that set opener “Says” also appeared on  a recent mix by Swiss techno dj Deetron. Nils closed with “For–Peter–Toilet Brushes–More,” Spaces‘ seventeen-minute centerpiece which involves the use of toilet brushes as percussion. It won him a standing ovation.

The first time I encountered Nils Frahm was in a title of a song by his friend Peter Broderick. “Hello to Nils” is the last track on Broderick’s How They Are, an album that helped get me through my first winter in Minnesota. Nils’ music likewise helps to ease the melancholy and emphasize the transcendence of the winter months. He does not shy away from sentiment: at one point last night, he introduced a song from his Screws album as a “little bit cheesy” piece of music he wrote after breaking his thumb. But he played it with complete, moving sincerity. It was only appropriate that a fresh layer of snow had appeared outside by the time the show ended.

Deceptive Rhythms and Accidental Influences: An Interview with Dawn of Midi’s Amino Belyamani

Dawn of Midi look like a standard contemporary jazz trio: bass, drums, piano, v-necks, and scruffy beards. After forming at the California Institute of the Arts in 2007, Amino Belyamani (piano), Qasim Naqvi (drums), and Aakaash Israni (bass) put out a full-length album called First in 2010 and a live EP in 2011, both of […]

Frahm_Dawn_of_Midi_2014-15_06_PP

Dawn of Midi: Qasim Naqvi, Amino Belyamani, Aakaash Israni. Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

Dawn of Midi look like a standard contemporary jazz trio: bass, drums, piano, v-necks, and scruffy beards. After forming at the California Institute of the Arts in 2007, Amino Belyamani (piano), Qasim Naqvi (drums), and Aakaash Israni (bass) put out a full-length album called First in 2010 and a live EP in 2011, both of which were freely improvised. On those records, the band sounded roughly like a modern jazz trio; which isn’t to say their music wasn’t brilliant and unique. It was, but Dawn of Midi’s early recordings definitely had more in common with the Craig Taborn Trio than electronic musicians like Aphex Twin or minimalist composers like Steve Reich. You can’t say the same for the trio’s sound on their second album, Dysnomia, which they will perform in full at Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul on Saturday, November 15 in a co-presentation by the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series and the Walker Art Center.

Dysnomia is a fully composed, forty-seven–minute piece of looping hypnosis. The textures are deep and synthetic. Naqvi keeps fishing wire taped under his drums, giving them the buzz of an 808 snare. The only cymbal he uses is his hi-hat. Belyamani manages to give his piano an electronic timbre by muting and manipulating the piano strings with his left hand. More often than not, Israni plays bass harmonics to match the higher frequency of the piano. Their acoustic instruments breathe organic life into the sonic palette of electronic music.

The album begins with a simple, repeating bass line, and eventually a muted piano drops in, sounding like a synthesizer that’s oscillating just barely out of time with the bass. A kick drum fades in with another off-kilter rhythm. It’s strange at first, the pulse of the “deceptive” rhythms, as Belyamani calls them. But as the piece builds, the disjointed beats slowly starts to swallow you, and soon enough, you’re dancing.

Cover art for Dawn of Midi's Dysnomia( 2014)

Cover art for Dawn of Midi’s Dysnomia (2013)

Sam Segal: I first came across your music in a 2010 radio session Dawn of Midi did on WFMU. At that point, you guys were making this quiet, spacial improvised music that seemed to be working more inside of the jazz idiom. Can you describe how you moved from that sound to the tight, composed, electronic-influenced music you are making now?

Amino Belyamani: As thrilling as it is to be immersed in the risk of each single moment, when playing freely improvised music, it is almost impossible to reach those golden musical moments at every concert. The majority of the music we love listening to is structured pretty heavily, if not entirely composed. If one wants to guarantee that kind of listening pleasure, for the audience as well as for the performers, then everything needs to be worked out beforehand.

Segal: What was the compositional process on Dysnomia like?

Belyamani: By the time we started working on Dysnomia, and understood the kind of compositional endeavor we were about to dive into, we put our improvisational skills to the side and began focusing on “deceptive” rhythms. I wrote the majority of the piece, sometimes bringing into rehearsals fully worked out parts for all three of us. Other times, since we recorded and documented every single rehearsal, we would decide on certain parts based on trial and error. Our bassist, Aakaash Israni, contributed to some of his parts.

Segal: It seems like in the contemporary jazz world, the idea of “the band” has fallen out of style. Musicians will form different combos, make a couple of records, and then disperse. That’s not the case with Dawn of Midi. Was maintaining the fellowship and group aesthetic of a band something that you guys deliberately set out to do?

Belyamani: I believe the real value is friendship. We were tennis mates for over a year before we even played music together. It just happens to be that our common aesthetic was the foundation of our friendship, as well as for our musicianship as a band. We got lucky. Even the name of the band was not deliberately meant to be a foreshadowing of Dysnomia, just a light-hearted joke about this time before MIDI came to be.

Segal: Dysnomia is a piece that really transcends any sort of gimmickry. You guys aren’t performing some parlor trick where all you do is fool people into thinking an acoustic band is an electronic producer. Could you talk about some of the non-electronic influences on the album?

Belyamani: Actually, what seem to be electronic influences were, once again, an accident. It was only after recording ourselves and hearing the sounds we were making that we noticed that it kind of reminded us of electronic and dance music. The intention, all throughout the compositional process, was to translate North and West African music into the western instruments we played. Growing up in Morocco was a great environment for absorbing what I call “deceptive” rhythms. That is, music where the underlying pulse is where you least expect it, where the silences are. Then in college at CalArts I studied heavily with this amazing Ghanaian master drummer named Alfred Kwashie Ladzekpo, who has retired back to Ghana now. The Moroccan and Ghanaian influences are what make up Dysnomia.

Frahm_Dawn_of_Midi_2014-15_10_PP

Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

Segal: There’s a looping, rhythmic quality to Dysnomia that makes it very danceable. Do you ever wish jazz/experimental music audiences were more willing to bust a move or two?

Belyamani: Absolutely! I believe that dance and music are inseparable. In fact, in many African languages, they only have one word that encompasses it all; dance, music, poetry, and style. Those “deceptive” rhythms I talk about are there for that reason; they don’t come from an intellectual or compositional process. They exist so that the dancer fills up those empty spaces, that would be the pulse, by their body, and that’s how trance is achieved.

Segal: Could you give us a hint about the direction of your next record? Can we expect another tightly composed piece, or are you guys stepping back into a more improvisational mode?

Belyamani: All I can say, without spoiling the surprise: Dancing will be mandatory.

Segal: Finally, if you could see any band/artist in any year, who would you see and when would you see them?

Belyamani: I would have loved to be at the Kalakuta Republic, in Nigeria where Fela Kuti resided, in 1974 and see his band blow my mind.

The Inherent Elegance of superposition: Noah Keesecker on Ryoji Ikeda

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer and multimedia artist Noah Keesecker shares his perspective on last night’s performance of superposition by Ryoji […]

superposition , 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition, 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer and multimedia artist Noah Keesecker shares his perspective on last night’s performance of superposition by Ryoji Ikeda. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Ryoji Ikeda doesn’t require you to care about quantum physics anymore than quantum physics require you to care about art. Which is to say that Ikeda’s superposition is not about the math as much as it is of the math and in Ikeda’s world to be of math is to have inherent elegance.

In an interview with MoMA regarding his collaborative duo Cyclo., Ikeda states that “to me, sound is a property of physics; vibrations of air. Music is, in essence, a property of mathematics; without mathematical structures, sounds are merely sounds”. Speaking to him after the performance we chatted about a major underpinning of his work which is that even without our human aesthetic values about sound the mathematical visual derivations he is drawing would still exist. He didn’t invent the sine wave, moiré patterns, Lissajous curves, or the Qubit, but he has invented an astonishingly crisp and pointed work that easily translates the vastness, precision, violence, and subtly of physics and art in a brilliantly crafted audio-visual work.

In general Ikeda’s work stands out for its extremes and superposition is no different. It doesn’t shy away from amplitude (your program comes with earplugs), it doesn’t pander to the moderate audio frequency range of your radio (you can leave your compression at home), and it doesn’t even bother with the topic of popular music idiom comparisons (it’s not about that bass, but there is plenty of bass). What is significant about these extremes is that he is working with a full palette, because if you are going to try to make a work about quantum physics you’re going to need every hertz, decibel, and pixel you can get your hands on.

But what about the show?

It’s a fast 65 minutes. The architecture is pristine, the visuals are surgical, the music is searing at one moment and cool and atmospheric the next. You are gently lulled into Ikeda’s quantum machine and then soon overwhelmed with data. Don’t try to make sense of it all, you’re not supposed to. Someone asked me about a particular section and “what it means.” The work is not narrative anymore than a mathematical theorem is narrative; the meaning determined and extracted through its practical application and relation to a body of knowledge.

Word, words, words. Ryoji isn’t into describing art with words either. Yet words are everywhere. The live performers pound out virtuosic Morse code in unison, illuminate, obscure, and then decode the principles of quantum superposition with keyboards, analog microfilm and live video feeds. In the one quirky and lighthearted section of the work the performers have a simultaneous thought stream like two computers arguing the 1’s and 0’s of the same data set, trying to grapple with humanity, science, religion, matter, life, and meaning, and there is something cute, revelatory, and terrifying about the whole segment. And then, like a text book definition of superposition, when you try to read the position and speed of a particle at the same time, the Qubits hit the fan and the result is explosive and mesmerizing.

Addendum: What Ryoji and I talked about afterwards.

The tuning forks. I overheard half a dozen people raving about the tuning forks and for good reason. I was particularly interested in this section because to me it is the most simple and magnificent execution of superposition, and the music and math that makes it. Two sound waves firing back and forth at each other, each frequency precisely chosen (Ikeda has made hundreds of custom tuning forks at peculiar and precise tunings) for the visual moiré patterns that it produces. It’s like a mathematical proof for Superposition; simple, elegant, factual, and brilliantly rendered and this, this is beautiful art.

Ryoji Ikeda’s superposition will be performed again tonight, October 25, 2014, in the McGuire Theater.

Data Swarms and Physical Sound: The Cerebral and Bodily Art of Ryoji Ikeda

“Somebody said something very interesting. That if you listen to a Ryoji Ikeda CD, you feel minimalist but if you go to see his performance you really feel he is a maximalist, physically.”—Ryoji Ikeda in a 2006 interview with David Toop in The Wire On the surface, it might appear that sound and visual artist […]

superposition , 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition, 2012. Photo: © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

“Somebody said something very interesting. That if you listen to a Ryoji Ikeda CD, you feel minimalist but if you go to see his performance you really feel he is a maximalist, physically.”—Ryoji Ikeda in a 2006 interview with David Toop in The Wire

On the surface, it might appear that sound and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda only creates pieces for isolated academics hiding on the top floor of some New Music ivory tower in Switzerland, squirreling away on their next paper about the acoustic phenomenology of stereophonic subjectivity or whatever. Ikeda recently won the Prix Ars Electronica Collide competition at CERN (you know, the place where they discovered the Higgs boson), which granted him a two-year research residency at the nuclear laboratory. In 2008, he collaborated with Harvard number theorist Benedict Gross on V≠L, a series of multimedia installations investigating a mathematical concept of infinity known as the “axiom of constructability.” superposition, the audio-visual piece Ikeda presents at the Walker on Friday, October 24, and Saturday, October 25, gets its title from a principle of quantum theory.

A brief, superficial listen of any Ikeda album might lead you to the same conclusion. The ascetic tone of the sine wave is the bedrock of his sound. Melodies, rhythms, and discernible narratives are all largely absent. He seems to relish bizarre juxtapositions and tonal shifts.

Yet this portrait of Ryoji Ikeda as a totally cerebral artist can be alienating and inaccurate. Ikeda isn’t an academically trained musician or visual artist. He began his career DJing in clubs in Toyko in the early 1990s. This is perhaps where he first learned how to use music and visuals as forms of stimulation to provoke the body and create visceral spectacles. Ikeda’s ability to manipulate an audience’s physical response to his work is what makes him such a vital and accessible artist.

Shards of static tickle the insides of your ears. You can feel his impossibly heavy bass drones in the pit of your chest. Sine waves bouncing back and forth between the left and right channels increasingly disorient your sense of space. Ikeda reminds us of the very physical nature of sound. In an interview with MoMa’s Inside/Out blog, he refers to sound as “vibrations of air.” The rapidly shifting digital images that accompany these sounds also produce physical responses. Streams of data collide on-screen to create a sensory overload that can literally cause an epileptic seizure. Ikeda’s work often circumvents cognitive processing by going straight for our bodies, and you don’t need a PhD in theoretical mathematics to feel the effects.

superposition , 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition, 2012. Photo: © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition is Ikeda’s first piece featuring human performers since his days collaborating with the Japanese theater collective Dumb Type. For this performance, experimental musicians Stéphane Garin and Amélie Grould will act as “operator/conductor/observer/examiners,” according to his website. In the past, Ikeda has expressed distrust in his capabilities as an improviser and a desire for total artistic control. “When I create a piece, music, installation, or audio-visual concert, my vision is so clear I need control,” he told The Wire in 2006. It’s possible that, with the introduction of human agents, superposition will be even more in touch with the human body because it’s being created by sensitive performers in real time.

Walker audiences may already be familiar with the collaborative side of Ikeda. The Walker co-presented, with the Guthrie Lab, his work with Dumb Type in [OR] in 1999 and Memorandum in 2001—two early examples of the types of immersive spectacles Ikeda has become known for.  Unlike anything that had been seen before in the Twin Cities, the assaultive quality of those performances astonished and thrilled audiences.

In recent years, Ikeda has created a number of massive public art pieces that have maintained the astounding nature of his performances with Dumb Type, while shying away from the shock tactics of those earlier works. His piece spectra, which sent immense beams of white light into the sky, toured multiple major cities in Europe. Every night this October, his audio-visual work test pattern has taken over the forty-seven digital screens in Times Square from 11:57 pm to midnight. Despite the theoretical background of these pieces, their visibility suggests a growing populist sentiment in Ikeda’s work.

Now, none of this is to say that there isn’t deep intellectual complexity embedded in all of what Ryoji Ikeda does. The power of his work is that it’s able to remove truly profound and moving mathematic concepts from the stasis and inaccessibility created by academic jargon. In superposition, Ikeda makes the data that swarms around us visible, audible, and sublime.

The Walker will present Ryoji Ikeda’s superposition Friday, October 24 and Saturday, October 25, 2014 in the McGuire Theater.

superposition , 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition, 2012. Photo: © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

Open Veins of Hip-Hop: Ana Tijoux at The Cedar

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View Series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker Performing Arts Intern and Radio K DJ Sam Segal shares his perspective on Ana Tijoux […]

Photo: Nacional Records

Photo: Nacional Records

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View Series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker Performing Arts Intern and Radio K DJ Sam Segal shares his perspective on Ana Tijoux and Maria Isa at the Cedar Cultural Center on October 4, 2014. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments.

The Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz was once asked whether he only writes to a Dominican or Latino audience. The interviewer, Jasmine Garsd from NPR’s Alt.Latino podcast, pointed out how much Spanish goes untranslated in his work, and she questioned whether this was a move to limit his audience to members of his community. Diaz wholeheartedly disagreed. “There’s always a space in any piece of art for a completely random person that you didn’t imagine to fall in love,” he said. I wonder if when Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux was writing the songs she performed on Saturday night at the Cedar, she imagined that a white, non-Spanish-speaker from Minnesota could connect with them so deeply.

Tijoux was accompanied by the guitar, bass, drums, and percussion of a live band, as well as samples from her percussionist’s laptop. She began the night with the title track off of her new album, Vengo (I remember enough high-school Spanish to know that means, “I come”).  Sampled pan flutes cried out on their own before the band dropped in a sharp Andean groove. Any of the audience’s previous associations between the pan flute and sterile, generic “World” music left the building. The instrument became anthemic, and Tijoux’s relentless flow locked into rhythm with it immediately.

Later in the set, she broke out “1977,” a single from 2010 that the audience may have recognized from its appearance in an episode of Breaking Bad. The beat was based on a sample that sounded straight out of a Morricone Spaghetti Western score. Tijoux seemed to be reclaiming this music from a film industry that often used it to Orientalize and demonize Latin Americans.

The packed crowd was about as enthusiastic as I’ve ever seen at the Cedar. Gone were the crossed arms, muted head nods, and desperate attempts to avoid eye contact that I was used to at indie-rock shows.  Groups of friends around me embraced and danced without shame. Hands waved in the air without any desperate prompting from the performer on stage. It made me think: when people characterize Minnesotans as shy and insular, who do they really think of as being “Minnesotan?” Maria Isa, the opening performer, referred to herself as a Sota-Rican, seeing no contradiction between her Puerto Rican and Minnesotan identities. Her music fused traditional Puerto Rican Bomba music (itself a pretty syncretic genre), R&B, and classic Twin Cities backpack rap.

Ana Tijoux grew up in France after her politically active parents were exiled during the Pinochet coup. Yet, she finds a balance between her French and Chilean identities in hip-hop. She managed to combine conscious rap, traditional Chilean folk music, the protest anthems of Victor Jara, and the feminist theory of Beauvoir. With hip-hop’s sampled beats and total lyrical freedom, it makes sense that the genre would attract artists looking to express their multiplicity.

Ultimately, though, I didn’t spend my night tallying up Tijoux’s influences; the music was too fluid and engaging for that. No, I spent my night dancing and vowing to learn how to speak Spanish again.

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