Tag Archives: music

Here My Dear

2017 is many things so far, but for me personally, it’s the year (ok, I started this towards the end of last year) that I take care of myself.

Not in a New-Years-Resolution-Fitness-Craze sort of way; more of a commitment.

Committing to my health spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally.

Committing to living the life I have, not looking backwards and being trapped in nostalgia or straining forwards waiting for it to “begin”.

Committing to the people in my life by showing up and allowing myself to be seen; and taking the time to see, listen and love my family, friends and colleagues.

Commit to doing all the things that I’ve been putting off out of fear or waiting to have someone to do them with.

Aside from all of that, I’ve been watching, listening to and reading some new stuff – new to me, so don’t stone me for being late to many proverbial parties.

Baggage Reclaim: A site that’s about all things relationships. Not just romantic relationships, I hasten to add. Natalie Lue writes with wit, kindness, humour and directness about self-esteem, love and life. It’s therapeutic.

Very Smart Brothas: Sharp commentary that makes me laugh darkly at least once a day because: truth. eg Dear White People Who Write Things: People Who Voted for a Blatant Racist are Fine With Racism (It’s Not That Hard).

Tiny Letters: Yes, I know everyone has been all about this for maybe two years but it’s a great email newsletter from all your faves. Bim Adewumni, whose own one (entitled …fuck is this? ) is fantastic and here she’s compiled a handy list of some other good ones. 2017 may be the year I start my own.

This Is Us: Listen. I am not a sappy person. (start of this post notwithstanding). I like to think of myself as a soft boiled egg: yes, a little gooey on the inside but there’s a robust buffer and a resilient shell to crack through first. I like my TV sharp and either funny and dark (Crazyhead), action-packed and dark (Banshee) or somewhat creepy and dark (Penny Dreadful). Throw in the odd trashy drama (Nashville – but I blame my love of country music for this) and I’m set. What I do not do is sweet. This is Us is sweet and funny and has me all up in my feelings every damn episode. It’s about a family and all the frustrating/beautiful/slightly bonkers things that families do. It’s also a wider commentary on society, race… there’s a lot, okay. And it undoes me every time.

Podcasts: I’ve added Melanin Millenials to my listening mix. Right now, my favourites are the Baggage Reclaim podcast (linked to the aforementioned blog), NPR’s Code Switch podcast (filling that chasm left when Melissa Harris Perry departed our screens) and Death, Sex and Money (Presenter Anna Sale has a gloriously intimate interviewing style that draws the best out of her subjects and one of the loveliest presenting voices to boot).

Music: Lee Moses is on repeat for me right now. His track Bad Girl is raw soul.

 

 

 

 

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In Formation

Beyonce-Knowles-Pepsi-Super-Bowl-50-Halftime-backup-dancers-zana-bayne

So…I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not a member of the Bey-hive but I’m not archly against Beyonce. I find her music fun but I’m not expecting her to be everything for me as a Black woman and a feminist.

Nevertheless I found it bewildering that without exception, the British press reported on her Superbowl performance as “race baiting” or “stoking a race row”. I would hazard a guess that they all subscribe to the same news agencies. But…even so, to reflexively take that editorial line without question in their news pieces (there have been a range of comment pieces) shows how such overt Blackness is seen as a negatively provocative and threatening, even by the liberal media (looking at you, Guardian).

Of course, the performance was political and made reference to the Black Panthers and more than a passing nod to current movements such as Black Lives Matter. This was done even more explicitly after the show when her dancers gave the Black Power salute and held up a sign in protest about the death of Mario Woods at the hands of the police. Taken together with her new video dropped the day before, Formation, it was all political. The fact that was instantly read as inherently threatening a race war and prompted hyperbolic comment from people such as Rudy Guiliani, who interpreted it as an attack on the police, shows that the politics are still salient.

It’s something I’ve been turning over in my mind as I look at the rise of Bernie Sanders in the US and Corbyn over here. These old Socialists, derided as dinosaurs and dreamers by their own parties and most of the media, have captured the imagination of a great many young voters. It’s galling for Clinton that younger women are more likely to support Sanders. Of course, they shouldn’t plump for Clinton just because she’s a woman, but it’s interesting that her historical run (as a woman who actually stands a chance) hasn’t lit a fire.

And as with Corbyn, I’m with Gary Younge in that I expect the reaction to Sanders’ rise to be dismay, hysteria and ridiculing his supporters. In the UK, no one has stopped to ask why Corbyn’s ideas and some of his ideals have traction. Could it be that the problems he’s identified – with capitalim, privatisation, austerity etc- are still crying out for a solution? As with Sanders. And….the Black Panthers. The conventional wisdom goes, well, capitalism won, it’s awesome and we’re all doing fine. Oh, and we’re post-racial now, too, so why the Black Panthers thowback?

To an extent, their reaction to the apparent resurgence of these ideas (and I would say that Black politics has never gone away, just retreated from the spotlight perhaps – that’s not to say that many activists have not been campaigning or organising in the time before Black Lives Matter – and nor is that the only movement in town) is illuminating. If these movements are redundant are the ideas have been defeated by progress, why the panic?

Maybe the renewed fire in these movements is because the solutions advanced for the problems they identified have been found wanting –  and the cosy political consensus isn’t interested in solutions because they don’t see the problem.

Could it be that we had a financial crash in which no one was held responsible but for which everyone else but in particular the poor, disabled and the young have had to pay? Could it be that politicians have waxed lyrical about cutting welfare and gleefully shredded the social safety net while increasing corporate welfare and being pathetically grateful when the likes of Google deign to pay some tax because the mood caught them on a Friday afternoon? Could it be that the issues the civil rights movement was fighting for – voting rights, economic inequality, housing, policing, social justice – have seen progress but are still outstanding? Black Lives Matter is articulating all this for a younger generation of digital natives.

Which brings us back to Beyonce. It was a risky performance (for a very mainstream bankable performer), but the fact that it resonated (horribly for some, gloriously for others) shows that these conversations are live, right now. I also find it interesting that her Formation video roots itself in New Orleans – an article I read recently on Black Lives Matter pointed out that the backdrop to the movement isn’t just police violence but a post-Katrina political context.

I won’t go into the detail of her performance at the Superbowl and the Formation video- the visuals, the representation, the politics, the blackness – not when so many others could do and have done it so much better. Like these two women:

One: “On Jackson 5 Nostrils, Creole vs Negro and Beefing over Beyonce’s Formation” by Yaba Blay:

A work as racially and emotionally charged as “Formation” is bound to cause tension. And because Beyoncé so often evokes something very personal, we need to approach one another with more care and caution. After all, it is very possible to enjoy the “Formation” song and video and take issue with it at the same damn time. Because we’re human.- Yaba Blay

Two: “Beyonce and Forms of Blackness” by Michelle R Smith:

When Beyoncé does something like turning out the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show, and black people start arguing about whether that was a “good” thing or a “bad” thing, we’re not really arguing about Beyoncé’s performance.

I mean, yes, some people love her singing and dancing, and others don’t, but that’s not really the root of the conversation, I don’t think.

I think what we’re really arguing about is how we want to see blackness represented in the media. And underneath that I think we’re arguing about what we really think black people need to be doing with themselves and doing about our collective “situation.” – Michelle R Smith

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Vicennial Hot 8

Yes, it’s that time again. I’m going to post about Hot 8 Brass Band. They’re touring right now, supporting their Vicennial album and 20 years of great music. You can listen to 30 second snippets of their new album, which has remastered favourites like Sexual Healing and some good new tunes, here.

Or if you’re really lucky, you can catch them tomorrow night in Cambridge, supported by the effervescent, lively and irrepressible Brass Funkeys, who I heard for the first time earlier this year at a brass band bash at Shoreditch Blues Kitchen.

So much good music.

So much work the next morning. 😦

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Funky Does It

Every so often, I make a decision that makes me feel very grownup. In this case, it’s to purchase an LP player. And start my own vinyl collection. My dad had one, and perhaps there’s a weird nostalgia fuelling this – but the music I grew up listening to and that I love just sounds different on records. A little more raw and immediate.

I am always on the hunt for a good music podcast (like Breaking Bread, which I go on about ad nauseum) and have now belatedly alighted upon the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show on 6 Music. (glad we saved it).

Thanks to the show and the latest offering from Breaking Bread, my list of songs that need to be played out loud and old-school keeps growing:

  1. Little Richard – Get Down With It

2. Monica – I don’t know Nothing Else to Tell You but I Love You

3. Bacao Rhythm and Steel Band – PIMP

 

 

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Shut up and Dance with me

A little whimsy. A mash-up of some great movie dances. (I said I have writer’s block, not that I’ve lost my sense of humour)

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Brass Funkeys

I had the unexpected pleasure of attending the Brassroots Brass Bands Bash  in Shoreditch on 4 May, the Bank Holiday.

Unexpected, because I didn’t realise it was an annual thing. Or a thing.

And a pleasure because there is nothing like a good brass band with attitude. My favourites were the Brass Funkeys, the youngest band of the night among the more established acts, with a disruptive spirit and joyfulness that was irresistible. They played a lot of their own music, which was really cool; some of the more established bands stuck mostly to covers. Their song #1 and their cover of the Jungle Book classic “I Wanna Be Like You” are my favourite songs this year so far.

Another highlight was Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, who led a conga line from Shoreditch Church into The Blues Kitchen for the festival proper. It was such a delicious pleasure to have them cover No Limit, my favourite song off my first cassette. Now there’s a word I haven’t typed in a long time. There’s no video of that, but here’s them covering Ace of Bace’s All That She Wants, my favourite song off the….er…second cassette I ever bought.

Feeling old. But it was such a great night. Definitely going back next year!

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Acapella

Random, I know, but this post is an ode to Acapella! Done well, it’s amazing. I think I’m also a child of a particular era – Boyz II Men, Az Yet, En Vogue – a time when strong vocals and harmonies were the thing.  I’ve blogged before about Naturally 7 and Acapella (the gospel group) but today I was introduced to Pentatonix. Covering Beyonce. From Bills, Bills, Bills to present day, via all the good ones. The memories!

Penatatonix

 

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Great vocals

I am actually too tired to tackle Emma Barnett’s rant on racism and the ISIS schoolgirls in today’s Telegraph. In summary: “There are real racists, like Chelsea fans and UKIP councillors. That’s full-fat racism. Saying the ISIS schoolgirls should be considered as adults is not racist. It’s my view. You don’t know me. I’m not a racist. Skimmed milk etc etc.”

My thoughts on this are basically:

1. *yawn*.

2. Being a “nice”person (or not being a UKIP councillor) doesn’t mean you’re not perpetuating a stereotype or upholding a racist structure. And no, I don’t know you. If the pre-requisite for calling out this behaviour was knowing someone, we’d never get anything done. However, if you’re hanging out with racists, that’s going to be questioned. And if you say or do things that are racially insensitive or racist, then, yeah, that’s going to be questioned too.

3. *sigh*

4. Racism isn’t a pantomime act; while the more egregious displays are violent or plain ridiculous and invite public opprobrium, the more garden variety racial insensitivity and/or implicit racism is much more common and much harder to counter. It’s often done through ignorance. And yes, while motives do matter, it still must be challenged. (even among allies/friends).

5. *bangs head on desk*

Actually, that was more than I planned to say. The reason I titled this post “Great vocals” is because I have been listening to some beautiful voices. The ones in this list are all male, as it happens.

My prize for group vocals: Naturally 7 singing a cover of Coldplay’s Fix You. Not sure why I always like Coldplay covers but can’t stand the band themselves.

My prize for bringing sexy back: Al Green. (of course)

And finally, the prize for just being so silky smooth: Gregory Porter. (yes, again. I will celebrate him and Hot 8 Brass Band about once a month, ok?)

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Vintage RnB

6a4ba984-a039-4dc7-a49d-16ca8fdf797eSomething light to break up the week: the latest podcast by the Breaking Bread collective. As usual, all music, no talk. This is my favourite era of music, at the intersection of blues, soul and rock n’ roll. Some of the lyrics are of their time, but there is a lot in there.

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Rolling in the Deep

Since I finished my dissertation, I’ve been MEH. Sure, I’ve had thoughts, I’ve even started some posts, only to run out of steam after the first sentence. Maybe I was a bit burnt out….?

Then today, I heard Aretha Franklin ripping up Adele’s Rolling in the Deep and I couldn’t help but write a little something. Now, my critques: it’s a bit overproduced, in the way that producers seem to do when they have a legendary talent in the studio. It’s as if they panic about keeping a person relevant and current and forget that this person can actually sing. So… the production values are a little too slick. And others have raised the spectre of autotune. Perhaps a touch? But you can’t deny the best part of it….

Her voice. Aretha takes Rolling in the Deep, which I love anyway, and gives it edge and soul. I do love Adele’s pared-back (by comparison) version which is moving and defiant, but when Aretha sings:

Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your shit bare/See how I’ll leave with every part of you/Don’t underestimate the things that I will do….

…you believe it. She brings out a deliciously threatening quality to the song (in the same way that Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ song Retreat gives me exquisite chills) until Aretha stalks through it and lets her voice into every nook and cranny of it.

I’m also not sure about the foray into Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, but her treatment of the song just has me in ecstasies. I’ll forgive that.

 

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