May 102014

I metaphorically shit my pants when accidentally coming across the musically versatile Lungsuran Daur on Youtube – a group from Bandung (‘Everybody Bandung tonight’), West Java, Indonesia, steered by a musical-genius legend and innovator named Kodir Dodong – (in other write-ups he is referred to as Dodong Kodir or Pak Dodong – but Pak is simply the Javenese form of Mr.).  [The group is also comprised of Yudi Setiadi [his younger brother], Rusli Gustaman, Rudi Rodek, Asep Tato, Ricky Biola, and Dedeng Buleng.)

Everyone has heard of garage bands, – ahem, well, Ladies and Gentlemen, here I boldly present to you a garbage band.  ‘Daur’ is Javanese for recycle.  This is a group of organized chaos  – let’s start with their instruments.  The instruments imitate disparate sounds of nature [animals, insects, weather, the ocean, the elements, trains [as all good music does], etc.).  The instruments are not only just played in the traditional pentatonic and diatonic scales, but also in his own scale he calls the Dodong membranes (mainly his nature sounds, if I am understanding him correctly).  He has worked on improving the sound of the traditional Indonesian instrument called the gamelan.

He makes instruments from literally every kind of scrap, scrip, and scrape – if it can be thrown away, then it can be turned into an instrument, is Dodong’s logic. (Viz., unused shavers, plastic bags to sound like flies, broomsticks, plumbing parts, a motley of metals, cooking skewers, washers, faulty wood – even the kitchen sink, I am assuming). Much to his now-resigned wife’s chagrin and presumable unhappiness (the early days went like, ‘Why do you collect garbage? You are only messing up the house!’), he has collected piles upon piles of junk that will be used someday to conceive something out of nothing, which makes Dodong really-times-infinity elated and satisfied.  His inspirations for musical instruments can also be unorthodox:  the devastating tsunami that hit Aceh a decade ago, as well as the Asian bird flu epidemic (which inspired an instrument dubbed ‘Chicken Drum’).

Despite the eccentric and silly-sounding nature of the instruments, Dodong is far from unprofessional, and one cannot tell that his homemade instruments were birthed from garbage – either by look or — more importantly – by sound.  The guy is an extraordinary virtuoso, to say the least.

His musical inspirations are sundry:  Sundanese/Javanese traditional music and a diverse array of Indonesian styles, jazz, classical, flamenco, pop, latin, melayu (Malay-style of music), country, and blues.  He seems to be really taken with Classical, whose compositions he has played in Paris – and he loves, times infinity, flamenco, and even composed a flamenco piece for a Spanish musician friend by the name of  Kuntul Flamenco, aka Egret Flamenco, which I believe incorporates bird sounds into Flamenco.  Wish I could unearth a video link.  Also, he seems to be very smitten with American styles – in one video he says the word ‘American’ quite a bit – and then he and Lungsuran Daur transition into a blues-California hybrid sound toward the end of their long set.

Dodong and Longsuran Daur have collaborated with many world-renowned artists, including French rich-‘voxed’ tenor Sebastian Obrecht; complex-melodic Bahrani stringed instrumentalist Mohammed Haddad; Chinese pipe player Yuan Chun; and Ukranian contrabass instrumentalist Kamil Tchalawep (whom I cannot locate the existence of).

It is imperative to delve into the music of Indonesia, which admittedly I am not yet that familiar with, particularly West Javanese, because what I notice is that when you find a killer musical genius in a certain part of the world, then you will also find a cluster of deliciousness waiting to be discovered in the same region:  Mississippi, Mali, Cuba, Appalachia, the Andes, Central Siberia, begrudgingly the UK, and such similarly great stuff.

Alright enough of that.

Oct 012013

I am sorry Terrabeat fans – am at a loss of what to say. This has been the first month where nothing has come to me. It is a goodbye and goodbyes are hard to say – even though we will be online – it is still the end of an era. There will be no more sitting down at coffeeshops perusing through the Louisville Music News – and no words are coming out. I have spent all night and all morning trying to find the words and nothing is coming.

This man has allowed me to be part of the Louisville music scene and am hopefully starting a career in booking, managing, etc. Virtually every opportunity I have ever had in Louisville – I owe to Louisville Music News whether it was co-organizing the Sudanese Rebaba Mayor Show last November or being asked to recruit musicians for Ambassador Shabazz for the International Day of Peace this September. I am a person who has always been musical but have no background as musicians – and Paul was kind enough to help me find a desperately desired musical outlet and place in this City.

Louisville Music News has not only allowed me to obtain opportunities I would not have had in Louisville, but also outside of Louisville as well. I am managing an ancient lyre musician living in Wales whom I started a correspondence with several years ago because of researching for a column for LMN – and am also working on two tour research for two groups – Indialcua – a kathak/flamenco group based in Europe – and Kitka – a vocal group based in San Francisco. I owe everything to Louisville Music News – and this has been the most difficult thing I ever had to write because nothing is coming out. Even though we will be online – there is a sense of change – and it is very, very, very difficult to put on paper.

Louisville Music News is that rare thing: a music paper that covers more of the music scene than just one genre – and people will miss LMN and what it has done for the City.

Aug 262013

‘Getting back to one’s roots’ — I’ve always loved that phrase, so often used in digging deep in to music.

So where are these ‘Roots’? Can only be, LV’s neighboring region to the East — Appalachia: where the atmosphere is a thick blanket of Trees and Isolation, and all exists in constant meditative solitude.

There the border across time is so permeable, so thin, that you feel that the old world of looms and snakeskin could bleed over into the present at any moment. Time is still standing still there, where beneath that canopy of green, things archaic are preserved forever in amber.

Black willow, black maple, black walnut, black cherry (almost sounds like a chant) — the ageless and mysterious community amid which you make your way, enveloped in mist, hunted by shadow, that is the trail through Appalachia. You can find online booklets by the locals with titles like Common Myths about Appalachian Forests — because this place is mythic. As to its stories. As to its trees. (As to its song.)

Trees are mythic. They’ve always been mythic. Weeping Willows, made immortal in countless songs; the noble Oak, grandfatherly, of doors and Druids and calendar stones. Sycamores, as written of in the Egyptian Book of Dead; watchful Birches of winter; the Cedars of nostalgic chests, discovered in dusty houses; Crab Apples and Chokecherries that even a starving squirrel might decline; wild Hemlocks dealing death to ancient philosophers– and the fabled Cherry. Cherry orchards are supposed to be a transition place from this world to the next; but the cherry is also a fruit associated with virtue and purity, good deeds, and virginity. The ultimate myths are the ones whose meaning escapes attempts to define.

If legends preserve the lore of the trees, the trees preserve the lore. Appalachia is where our most ancient and most mysterious songs still sing. Its forests, as with the red-orange, fossilized tree resin embedded in coal seams, embalm music; mummify folksongs; preserve culture that is centuries old, because of the near-impenetrability of the isolation that they themselves create.

But some trees, like the songs that weave airborne around them, tower, ancient-rooted, above the rest — here’s one:

Cherry Tree Carol Lyrics #1:
Cherry Tree Carol Lyrics #2:
Cherry Tree Carol Lyrics #3:
Cherry Tree Carol Lyrics #4:

On Arborea’s (they’re named for ‘Trees’) latest album, Pale Horse Phantasm, there is an eerie, vulnerably beautiful version of The Cherry Tree Carol, an old Celtic or English ballad that has Kentucky roots. Cherry Tree Carol – Arborea

The Carol first popped nationally from Kentucky legend Jean Ritchie (a still-living example folklorist and authentic singer in one), followed by more famed folkies like Peter, Paul & Mary; Joan Baez; Judy Collins. Cherry Tree Carol – Jean Ritchie Cherry Tree Carol – Judy Collins Cherry Tree Carol – Shirley Collins Cherry Tree Carol – Sting

Jean Ritchie is a longtime, frequent poster, under the handle ‘kytrad,’ to the music folklorist site (which is the best site online to find an origin of a particular traditional ballad).

The Carol has come down among Ritchie’s own family traditions (she has posted some very interesting quotes from family elders on the subject), albeit in humble form — she talks about a Granny sitting in a creaking rocking chair, ‘rasping’ out the tune. Ritchie is someone who didn’t need to catch this song — just let it out of its brown-jug bottle (, transform it, and watch it grow). And from those small beginnings it has grown, acorn into oak-tree-like, into a giant among Americana.

Speaking of: tucked away, for nearly 600 years until its death was officially pronounced in the late 1930s, when it was hewn down, just on the border between the (especially) wild WV counties of Logan and Mingo — the legendary Mingo Oak; the largest white oak in the world. Truly a wild tree, that: eight feet in diameter at breast-height; its first limb 66 feet above the ground; 146’ tall; and with a circumference at ground line of 30 feet, 9 inches, it finally succumbed to ‘black lung’ (you know, the fatal and lingering illness coalminers get, only this time a tree actually died of it from an eternally-burning gobpile, of low-grade coal refuse, located nearby).

When it was cut down, they took sections of it, ‘discs,’ out and preserved them in museums around the State, where you can still go and see them (the sections look sort of like huge, wooden LP’s — pictures are online). Always the region has been the favorite, rich, and secret hunting-ground of treasure-hunters after Tales not just Tall, but Taller; after the Largest-Than-Life: freaks of nature, relics of culture, impossible and miraculous things that challenge and inflame imagination.

Jean Ritchie was not the only person whose attention the Cherry Tree of the Carol drew: English musicologist Cecil Sharp was a treasure-seeker to Appalachia, who from 1916-17 recorded and documented old songs of British Isles origin, including TCTC. A William Wooton, from Hindman in Knott County, in Eastern KY, records the first-known documented version – which he collected from Sharp (great name for a musicologist, btw — wonder if he knew Flatt’s family?).

Kentucky writer John Fox went, in 19-aught-8, to Appalachian roots for inspiration for his book about a young KY geologist who traveled East to seek his fortune, intrigued by stories of a legendary tree, On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine.

Here, quoting from Barnes&Noble online, a bit of the blurb about the book’s premise:

“The tree the ‘lonesome pine,’ from which the story takes its name, was a tall tree that stood in solitary splendor on a mountain top. The fame of the tree lured a young engineer through Kentucky to catch the trail, and when he finally climbed to its shelter he found not only the pine but the foot-prints of a girl . . . “

(–and so on, yadda, yadda, yadda — because, in fact — according to Wikipedia on this actual type of tree, the ‘lonesome pine’ — Pinus pungens [‘smelly pine’? — maybe that’s what’s used in PineSol] — is really ‘a tree of modest size (6-12 m).’

So much for ‘a tall tree’ standing ‘in splendor.’ (It’s amazing how these legends can exaggerate things, isn’t it?)

But what is true that the blub says, that does make the smelly-pine remarkable, is its isolation. The table pine (aka ‘table mountain pine,’ aka ‘lonesome pine,’ aka ‘smelly pine’ [so, I guess, no wonder it’s so lonesome — my, how these legends shrink back down to size once you really come to look at them]), is found only in the (isolated) Appalachians — in a northeasterly to southwesterly swathe from S Central PA to the Westernmost tip of NC (and covering the entirety of WV’s Eastern panhandle).

But you don’t have to be a forester or look at a map to see it is an isolated tree: every lonesome pine is found either growing off by itself, or else in little, clumpy groves of smelly-pine — rather than in the larger forests where other pines typically grow. (And as for the picture we are given of its standing silhouetted high on a mountaintop for all to see — it more looks as if it grows in flattish, ‘tabletop’ areas nestled in the hills.)

But the best thing, probably, about the Lonesome Pine’s Appalachian isolation, from its publicist’s, Mr. Fox’, point of view, is that hardly anyone’s ever seen one — so no one’s is in much of a position to contradict you if you want to lie about its impressiveness and size.

I myself kind of think Fox’ idea of this young man who goes off in search of a legendary tree might have been based on Fox’ own experience. Fox himself spent time in the Eastern VA coalmining region where his book takes place (his hero is a young geologist, after all) — and to get there Fox might well have had to travel through Southwestern WV — and have gone to see the famous Mingo Oak. So the great and poignant Lonesome Pine, as we have all come to imagine it, might really have been not a pine at all, but a great white oak; a tree that, had we no means to preserve it, might have survived only in the lore of Appalachians and otherwise written off as myth.

Appalachia is a place that specializes in the creation of legends — of course some true, some not. From its start in Fox’ tale the ‘Lonesome Pine’ grew to fame via numerous, spin-off works, including three films, among them Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West, with the (perhaps annoying?) little song we all know: ‘In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia/On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine.’

But if Fox played a little fast and loose creating legend, and gave credit for his literary inspiration to the wrong tree, he seems to have come by this finger-crossing honestly. He hailed from the little KY town of Paris, in Bourbon County, which boasted some 300 souls at its inception and has around 8,000 now (and, to keep you from confusing the great with the small, Wikipedia does give you a warning that this is not Paris, France). And, speaking of (deliberately conflating the large with the small), one site in Paris, the Shinner Building (vintage 1891), actually made it into Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, as ‘the world’s tallest three-story structure.’ (C’mon.) But they’re not done yet, these Parisians: just six miles east the astonished traveler will come upon the Cane Ridge Meeting House, of exactly a century earlier, which is ‘said’ (note that ‘said’– because how could you prove it?) to be ‘the largest one-room log structure in the country.’ (Take that, Eiffel Tower.)

Now, I can’t say I have much in common with those modern treasure-hunters who go antiquing — but I will admit that I’ll spend half the day chasing a local historical site, no matter how small (or couldn’t you tell?). Human beings have always felt a thrill in doing that sort of thing. So, now that we no longer have to hunt down our food, we invent reasons to go out and road-trip or to head to the mall. At one point in our cultural evolution, and not too far back in the forested fortresses of Appalachia, what people went out ‘hunting’ was trees (sort of as if they were prey that couldn’t run very fast). It was a huge, community-party deal — felling, cutting up, dragging away a mammoth tree, very like when great, white hunters return with big animal kills.

But unlike animals you kill and eat, or previous stones you find, trees uniquely metamorph when they’re cut down. You can take the wood from a tree and make it into other things. You can carve things out of it; if you carve something like a mask, the tree can seem to be coming to life again, in a different form. A single, woodworked tree might live on, scattered around, in many different forms. (It might even become a relic — survive the ages — live to become Big Game, for antiquers, yet again.) (It’s just like the deathless and haunting Red Violin, in the film of the same name, I wrote about last time.)

The Mingo Oak’s transformation, and afterlife, actually began long before it ever even fell ill. From the area’s earliest settlement days it was ‘the church in the wild woods,’ where were set up pulpits and benches for Sunday services. And, in excellent Red Violin tradition, part of the great Oak after its death, in the form of a pulpit, resumed life in a local church.

Great trees and ancient forests go together with outdoor sanctuaries as if they were salt and pepper. The Cherry Tree Carol is a part of sacral music and presents a charming vignette of a miraculous, transformational tree: the story is of Mary and Joseph stopping enroute, on their travels, to rest beneath a cherry-tree — which the unborn Baby Jesus inside Mary then commands to bend down and give some cherries to his mother (and the tree of course complies).

It sounds kind of nursery-tale to us, but in the Middle Ages, Ripley’s B/I/O/N stories like this, of ‘Real Marvel and Miracles That Are TRUE, Honest Injun,’ were taken seriously and held a lot of oo-oo-oo feeling for the people, who were quite gullible in lieu of science . (But even we can experience something of what they did in settings like the heavily forested parts of WV where, once you’re out there alone, it’s easy to start believing anything. The atmosphere will do that to you — and the darkness and deepness of anything that we can go and stand in is not aboriginal forest — that was cut down from Appalachia by timber-hunters starting in the late-18th c. Original, aboriginal forest was apparently something that we now can imagine only with difficulty. It has become for us only a myth.)

What pagan religious influences live on in the Carol are obvious, from when the people of Britain, long before they were Christian, had been Druidic and had invested the trees of their forests with magical numen. That more ancient pagan strain was of course absorbed, very purposefully, by the Christian Church, with the result that a lot of pagan lore, like that surrounding the cherry-tree, found its way into songs that were sung at the newly-Christianized, old pagan festivals, including Christmas.

The Cherry Tree Carol, which is found in numerous variants on both sides of the Atlantic, contains some pretty obscure references going back also to purely Christian sources, of the Middle Ages. It harks back to the Biblical myth of Eden, in its theme of a couple sitting beneath a tree, eating fruit (only in this case of course the Eden experience goes just right).

The fact that it was sung at Christmastime embroiled it in the Church’s calendrical conundrums: its lyrics have the unborn Christ Child say, ‘On the fifth day of January my Birthday shall be/When the stars and the elements shall tremble with fear.’ So we see Medieval astrology playing a role in the song foregrounds predictions and cosmic resonance as among ‘stars,’ ‘elements,’ and divine and worldly events. It seems surprising that Baby Jesus would prophesy that the world would ‘tremble in fear’ on the Happy Day — but that kind of apolcalyptic language is exactly in keeping with astrology-talk of the time.

As among the Age’s many controversies, there was a pretty raging argument over the exact date when Christmas fell, that arose from the discrepancy between the Julian and the Gregorian calendars; Christmas Day (something like in a story by Charles Dickens) actually migrated around for a few centuries, growing later and later, as it advanced through the days of the first week of January a day at a time, ‘gaining a day’ every 50 or 100 years. As a result different versions of The Cherry Tree Carol, as they have come down, will actually have Baby J. giving his coming natal day as the 5th, 6th, or 7th, depending. (Small wonder the Church finally nailed the wandering holiday down to Dec. 25, regardless.)

Not that that made everyone happy. Jean Ritchie did a post, dated 12/15/02, on what she termed ‘a small observation, not provable,’ to the effect that she could remember her old Granny Catty Ritchie (the one who rocked while singing The Cherry Tree Carol) was ‘still quite touchy on the subject of the Christmas date and she ALWAYS observed Old Christmas, telling us in no uncertain terms that December 25th was just “a newfangled notion.” ’

So, contrary to what you might expect — not just did the song come down, in all its Medieval sophistication and complexity, to ‘unsophisticated’ Appalachians, such transplanted lore also brought with it and preserved things like long-forgotten topical debates from those old, old times (so that people here, deep in the Appalachian wilderness, centuries later could still get about them!).

More as one might have expected, the ‘common people’s original source for The CTC was from early English broadside; but, back behind that, there was lurking a source that derived from Biblical Apocrypha — the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, to be exact. Now, that is a bit interesting, and strange, if you think about it: because the Apocrypha of course were those parts of the Bible that go back as far as all the rest of Biblical text, but that the Church Fathers decided to exclude on the basis of their not being ‘genuine’ — that they weren’t really written by the Apostles.

A lot of times the Church decided that because the Apocrypha, which were written by the ‘Pseudo-‘ writers, were often the liveliest, the most controversial, and of course the texts least in keeping with Church C.W. — so from our modern point of view, they are among the most interesting account to read. For anyone who wants to have a look at the sections of the Apocrypha that The Cherry Trail Carol’s lyricist drew on, it can make for some pretty remarkable reading:

The Apocryphal story The CTC drew on shows us a humbly conceived, charmingly dressed-down domestic moment within the divine family; a moment of very humanly sour grapes from Joseph, for various reasons (depending on which source you look at): either because Mary has made one of those impossible requests wives standardly seem to make of their husbands (just to keep us on our toes, I guess, or maybe to test our sincerity), ‘Honey, can you go up there, 40 feet off the ground, now that you’re tired, and get me some cherries? (in response to which Joseph is kind of leery because they are growing so nowhere close to the ground); or because Mary picks just this moment to reveal to him that she is expecting (and his reaction is perhaps understandably less than thrilled: ‘Why don’t you go get the man whose child it is to get you some cherries?’); or because he questions her priorities at time like this (‘Fruit?? How can you expect me to be thinking about fruit when we’ve run out of water?!’).

This unexpected, comic side to medieval sacred song and story fits right in with the Cherry’s ancient mythic associations: there is life in the fruit of a cherry-tree. Its famous ‘stone’ (rhymes with ‘bone’) is an unusual, a strange-looking, an odd and unexpected form for a seed to take. It looks dead — we call it a ‘stone’ — but life is inside it nevertheless, kind of ‘miraculously,’ as it has been inside Mary miraculously conceived; and as life exists, and is seemingly able ‘miraculously’ to transform and resurrect itself, within a tree.

At its center the Carol’s story is also about disagreement between Joseph and Mary as to whether they more need to go about getting some water (from the cherry-tree’s roots, which is what Joseph thinks should happen); or whether they should get some cherries (from the tree itself, which is what Mary wants to do). (Myself, I’d tend more to go along with Joseph, but you know pregnant women, forever eating.) But — in the spirit of ‘Ladies First’ — the Christ Child (who in this song of course has beautiful manners even while still in utero) tells the tree to bend down and give his mother what she wants first — and then, Joseph, the tree-roots can give them all some water.

The comic quality hiding behind the song, that we see so clearly in its ancient Biblical source, actually inspired this wonderful Cherry Tree Carol spoof: (really you should not miss this)

–here a ‘pickle-tree’ (you know, pickles and ladies-in-waiting; pickles and teething babies; the stork mascot on the jar of Vlasic pickles . . .) miraculously appears and rains down pickles on the 2 ½ of them. This little cherry-tree song, for all its age, is a very pregnant mythic source, indeed.

But the person who is responsible for this send-up did it based just on the Cherry-Tree song; they were able to see the humor just by looking at the ‘Tree’ — at the derivative Christmas carol; they didn’t need to go back to the song’s Roots among the Apocrypha.

But wait ! We’re referring now to very old and traditional Cherry Tree Carol not as something that returns us to our Roots — but as a Tree, sprung from Roots that are even older.

Behind and beneath every root-source that one can find one can find another, deeper root. We can start with the fruit of the Tree that’s in front of us — but there is always more — more revivifying liquid, more water, more to drink — at its Root.

You can still go and see the stump of the great Mingo Oak, if you’ve a mind. Even with so little of it left, your imagination will fill in the gaps, and you will find yourself awestruck. With a little ferreting out, and adventurer-like exploring, plus a little faith, you can nearly always manage a return to the Roots and find something; to the Water; to the Source — and be carried along by some new spirit of inspiration.

Ah, Mountain Mama — Appalachia: hunting ground for scholars, the romantic-minded, and those of us with antiquarian turn. There’s more in your music than just the music.

More in you than just trees . . .

More to come.

Music Links: Cherry Tree Carol – Jean Ritchie Cherry Tree Carol – Judy Collins Cherry Tree Carol – Shirley Collins Cherry Tree Carol – Sting Cherry Tree Carol – Arborea

Aug 112013
Habib Koité

The Clifton Center has just announced that African guitarist Habib Koité will perform on March 2, 2014. Koité is a native of Mali, a country noted for the musicality of its population and which was recently taken over by Islamic militants, who banned public singing and regularly smashed musicians’ instruments. The militants were subsequently ousted by a French force. Koité has a new album, Brothers in Bamako, to add to his list. Tickets are on sale and run $19 through $24

Jul 252013

When the ‘Songcatchers’ (be they musicologist-folklorists like Cecil Sharp, Olive Dame Campbell, or John Lomax, or just curious traveling salesmen like Max Hunter) ventured into the smoky, mysterious Appalachian mountains to capture ancient sounds on (at that time) modern recording equipment almost a hundred years ago, one of the rare birds of melody they caught from among the Celtic (Scotch, Irish, or Welsh) and English ballads, whose habitat the area had long been, was ‘Black Is the Color [of My True Love’s Hair]’ (earliest recording by a Lizzie Roberts in 1916 — cannot locate an original recording — disappointment) — a bit-of-living-legend song that is still sung today.

And so, in that winged and elusive flight trajectory that it seems that only music can describe, a lonely song from a forgotten voice defies all odds and is recorded by a passing stranger with the latest technology; but, the passing stranger being himself but an obscure ‘lore-ophile,’ the song again must defy and beat the odds, and somehow be heard by the right people, who can and will record them commercially, or perform them in high-profile venues, so that the song attains popularity, ultimately widespread recognition and even fame, becoming not a ‘household name’ or ‘household word,’ but a ‘household song’ — and then the song can really take off and soar above the ridgeline, being replicated over time by numerous artists; sung in many different versions and styles, as if it found escape out of the mountains on a bird’s wing.

Such blessed songs survive — they fly free — by being captured.

They then go on to complete the life-cycle of the freeborn song — the ‘Written By . . . (?) Anonymous’ song — by being returned, via breath and vibrating string, back to the archaic, ‘naïve’ fonts of musical and lyrical invention from which such songs so often spring: the singing, the burbling, the spurting forth from plain-folk, dabbling rivulets; first (doubtless), in the form of the heartfelt, or the longed-for, the inescapable human experience of joy or heartbreak; and thence, on their way, to and through other hands, molded more by the imaginary, the sympathy, the resonance that is awakened in the memories and hearts of those hearing the song who catch its spirit — and out of these sensitive hearers who are themselves musicians the song can again be reborn.

But the free song can only can only become immortal if it flies first into the cage of reproduction, repetition, popularization, and for a time sojourns there before escaping back into the ‘wild’ of re-creation.

These songs, which swoop and swirl and dive, trailing tail-feathers of enchantment in their wake, are not like songs we used to hear and might even still feel nostalgia for (if we do ever hear them again), like ‘Heat Wave’ by (was it?) Martha and the Vandellas — those songs-of-the-moment, famous, briefly hits and ‘Top 40’ — one of those songs that can get unwelcomely ‘stuck’ inside one’s mind for hours (days! even) — or which can evoke for us as individuals a rich assortment of memories and associations from times-gone-by; but which songs, in the end, only ever live a single life, in essentially just one 45 rpm version, sung by one, defining group; remembered by a young generation, yes, for their lifetime — but essentially forgotten, consignable to dust heap, after that.

The songs born unfree are limited by their Martha-and-Vandellas, form; that all-too-memorable, single form we all know them as and know them in — whereas songs like ‘Black Is the Color’ achieve immortality precisely by mutating from one variant, one ‘personality,’ one interpretation to another, as they pass from one voice, one instrument, one recording label to another. They are sort of reincarnated beings, like human Orientalized mysteries, flitting from one of their forms, their ‘lives,’ to another; songs, melodies, lyricism so great (often so simply great) that a single form, a single ‘body,’ is not big enough — not great enough — to contain them. Nor is one artistic mind, by their performer, a single artistic talent, great enough to do justice, to explore, to exploit and exhaust, all the potential for beauty, breadth, and depth that is within them.

Unlike other, more limited species, such magical songs contain a time-defying variety within themselves.

Have you chanced to catch the film The Red Violin? A fairy-tale-like story set in Italy in, perhaps, the 17th c., it is the same idea: a master violin-maker, hard at work on his masterpiece violin, loses his beloved wife; and as his finishing touch, in his overwhelming grief, he stains his greatest Violin with her blood.

The Red Violin’s first owner becomes a violinist possessed; accomplished; perfect both technically and artistically — but dies passionately tragically-young. And the Violin, against the odds, gets passed to another’s hands; same thing. Wherever the Red Violin ends up, genius touches its owner. Claims the very life’s blood of its owner. It becomes the Violin of a little orphan boy with a bad heart, living in a monastery; so great does this boy become, and so quickly, that he is summoned to play before a King. The terrified child performs brilliantly up to the finish — then dies, then and there, of heart attack. The Violin is buried with him — but, of course, somehow escapes the grave and goes on to ‘live’ again — in each case making of its owner and player an artist greater than he ever could have otherwise been.

Songs like ‘Black Is the Color’ appear to be British in origin, which seems unsurprising, considering that the settlers who made their home in the Appalachian foothills were largely from the UK. It was not, however, just the Scotch-Irish who made their home there, but also Welsh, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants — and, if one looks closely, Native American ancestry is also visible in the people of the region. What I notice is that songs like ‘Black Is the Color’ are presumed to be either Scottish, Irish, or English in their derivation — with which one being determined, apparently, by the heritage of the person recording it — but it makes most sense to me that this song would be Highland Scotch, Irish, Scotch-Irish, English, or even Welsh (a very musical culture that is, in the game of assigning musical origins to songs, for some reason often overlooked).

Louisville native John Jacob Niles claimed to have composed the tune that we associate with the song today because the tune originally (or ‘originally’) associated with it was supposedly horrible; the only way to disprove that would be to hear the Lizzie Roberts’ version and other early recordings. However, I did find one recording that was made in the Ozarks during the fifties that did have a horrible tune.

(Here are some: Cat. #0138 (MFH #682) – As sung by Mrs. “Bobbie” Barnes, Eureka Springs, Arkansas on June 21, 1958
[a version that is similar to John Jacob Niles’ tune]; or

Cat. #0242 (MFH #682) – As sung by May Kennedy McCord, Springfield, Missouri on September 23, 1958
[a completely different tune].)

The Appalachian ballad — whether you wish to call it Highland or Lowland Scotch, Irish, Scotch- Irish, English, or Welsh — it doesn’t matter because the tune most likely had its origin in the ‘broadside’ (the first non-musical way to share music — anonymous posters that were sold during the 1500s and later that featured music, news, and music). So a lot of the ‘traditional’ music we associate with Appalachia today actually passed through an earlier phase of commercial publication. (Kind of makes one rethink the idea of songcatchers’ out looking for ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional’ songs.)

Kentucky bard John Jacob Niles’ version is undeniably beautiful; who cares the relatively recent vintage?

Civil rights activist/jazz chanteuse Nina Simone’s version is perhaps the most beautiful of all recordings, but since every melodic touch she sings turns to gold — that is to be expected. Joan Baez’s version is surprisingly not bland hippy-dippy, and is also very beautiful. Jazz vocalist Patty Waters does an avant-garde version in the Appalachian style that is full of disturbed musical notes, pitches, howls, and screams, lasting for thirteen minutes, and which sounds like something local avant-garde Appalachian musician Cynthia Norton, aka Ninnie Novel, might do. And English singer does a Renaissance and Baroque music style that sounds like it came from a Cadfael episode (you know, the 80s TV series, based on the novels of ­Ellis Peters, where a 12th-c English monk played by Derek Jacobi solves mysteries).

The version that got me on this ‘Black Is the Color’ kick is by wife/husband duo Shanti and Buck Curran, aka Arborea, which has played in Louisville two separate dates in July. (Uncle Slayton’s which will be closed by this printing, and Clifton’s Pizza, of all places — O tempora! O mores!) Arborea specializes in resurrecting old, presumed-to-be Celtic/English ballads like ‘The Cherry Tree Carol’ or their version of what we know as ‘The Streets of Laredo’ (retitled ‘I Was on Horseback’).

The best music, I might add, always comes from the musicians who combine old music with original compositions, such that in the end-product you cannot tell which is which; example: Loreena McKennitt — most famous for her Celtic folk and European-inspired music — and of whom Shanti Curran of Arborea (although she swears she is not influenced by) sounds like the next evolution. This same ancient st(r)ain also bleeds into other types of music such as Sixties British Rock: when I first heard Low Cut Connie’s ‘Rio,’ I thought it was a forgotten Stones B-Side, complete with even the recording-sounding, aged garage; and when I first heard Aloe Blacc’s ‘I Need a Dollar,’ an illusion was created in my mind that I had heard the song many times on oldie stations, and I was surprised that the song did not come out of the heady Motown, Civil Rights era, so much did the male vocalist sound very similar to Nina Simone. Arborea has done this as well with ‘Song for Obol’ (an ancient Greek coin that was put in the mouth of the dead as a payment to Charon, Ferryman of the Dead), a song which was written by Shanti Curran but could very easily have been an old or ancient piece. John Jacob Niles Joan Baez Nina Simone Alfred Deller Twilight Singers Ester Ofarim Patty Waters Arborea

Apr 232013

About two months ago I was listening to Pandora and heard a mournful cry in a haunting tune that was labeled Country but didn’t quite sound like Country. It wasn’t Luk Thung – the Thai version of Country Music inspired by Johnny Cash and other American artists – but it may as well have been. It was ‘Let Freedom Ring,’ the ending track of Terry Allen’s Amerasia, an alt- Country album that was part political statement on the botched aftermath of the Vietnam War in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam; part Country album; and part experimental album with World Music. It appears that Allen worked over a decade on the album; he recorded with Laotian musicians in Thailand a decade prior (engineered by Supod Sookkald, Witan Tuwatchhai) – and the album incorporates SE Asian songs with English songs which condemn both the War and war in general.

Country musician and anti-war activist Natalie Maines’ father (Lloyd) and uncles (Kenny and Donnie) backed up Terry Allen on this album as they have done on others – I can see where Natalie gets it from. They not only play traditional Country Music instruments such as guitar and fiddle, but Thai instruments as well, including trupbra (drum) along with other Thai drums, chimes, and various other noisemakers.

While targeting war, the album also strives to demonstrate how friendship can come out of war from the opposing sides and that friendship can unite us in the end – that may seem corny, but this album makes a case that maybe there is truth to it.

Terry Allen’s concept album is worthy of a ciccerone – it starts off with the whirring helicopters of the title Track ‘Amerasia’ (American meets Asia – oh, now I get it) – and a foreboding narration from Terry Allen on how the War in Vietnam has changed Thailand for the worse; has possibly conquered this unique nation in a strange way despite the fact that they were our allies at the time – this ancient land that never been conquered or changed by any outside force prior. It is disturbing to note that Thailand was basically used as an aircraft carrier from which to bomb the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia, and of course Vietnam.

The second track is a couple of seconds of ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,’ which in this context serves to suggest that patriotic violence is not very patriotic in its swath and path of destruction.

The third track, ‘The Burden,’ actually reprises the first musical track – a traditional-sounding Country song – but this time uses it to weave an anti-war, tragedic lament honoring the thousands of nameless fallen, with Thai drums pounding in the background behind Country instruments. It is a far cry from the awful rah, rah, dry, patriotic, pro-Iraqi top-40 Country songs of a decade ago.

‘Back out of the World’ is kind of honky-tonk, about a dissatisfied solider returning home and trying with difficulty to readjust to society. In the background are female Country vocals purposely and intriguingly trying to sound Southern and Oriental at the same time.

‘Swan Lake’ is a gritty instrumental, almost blues-like, that just goes to show you that when you combine good music from two cultures, better music is the result (and the question of what country the music originally came is forgotten). Allen works with Laotian musicians Surachai Janyimathorn (guitar, Singha beer bottle); Mongkol Utog (on Paen, aThai Mandolin); Tong Kran Tanaa (phenomenal acoustic slide guitar); and Veersak Sunitohnsri (guitar, Singhai beer bottle), as he does on a variety of tracks.

‘Display Woman/Displaced Man’ is a lively, action-packed song that sounds like it could have been in a Chuck Norris 80s action movie, about the sex trade created from the Vietnam War (an activity that is world-famous and still thrives today). I should note that because of the kathoey (transsexual woman), the displaced man has become the display woman.

The Cajun-sounding ‘Lucy’s Tiger Den’ is an homage to an infamous bar that was a hangout for former soliders, ex-CIA pilots, construction workers, and assorted other military types, that closed in 1987 and gave Americans a way to spend holidays with each other away from home during the war. Kind of reminiscent of M*A*S*H* in that respect.

Most of the songs to this point sound American with hints of Asian, but the record kind of reverses that starting at an American/Thai amalgam of ‘Chopsticks’ at the album’s midway point.

‘Nobody’s Goin’ Home,’ weighing in as the last American music-dominated number and true to its pessimistic title, is a stark criticism of how the US treated Thailand, who was its ally, by destroying the country in the very act of building its infrastructure – and at the same time betraying its own, American citizens by not valuing its soldiers’ lives.

Songs like ‘Metrapab’ are what make Amerasia an inventive Country album ahead of its time – this song could have easily been just Terry Allen singing in outcry against the Vietnam war; but instead Surachai Janyimathorn sings several songs critical of the War from his point of view. I think Surachai is Laotian, but he sings in the Thai language. Perhaps coincidentally (though perhaps not), both Allen and Janyimathorn share a similarly dry, nasal-sounding voice, so that they almost sound like the same person singing about the same events in the ‘same voice,’ but from two opposite worlds.

‘Metrapab’ represents a complexity of thought regarding Americans during this timeframe, expressed in simple poeticism worthy of Willie Nelson. The message is hard-hitting and laden with irony: Americans have come to Thailand in order to use it as a way to defeat Americanism, killing everyone in their wake, including their Thai allies and their own citizens, heedless that their casualties extend even to children as the mess they leave behind in Thailand for that country to clean up includes children that are ‘left behind’ from either hooking up with or raping local women. But yet, despite all of this, there still somehow remains a transcendent respect for the Americans and a desire to make peace and friendship.

The next three tracks — ‘Church Wall,’ ‘Food Stall,’ and ‘Canal’ — are all instrumental tracks that try to capture the memories of the ex-soldiers who may still be wandering around Thailand. The melodies used in all three are essentially the same, with the mood and instrumentation being tweaked a bit from track to track.

‘Sawahadi’ (‘Christmas Song’) is a short Christmas reflection sung by Terry Allen; and it is lonely – a couple of tracks earlier ‘Lucy’s Tiger Den’ mentioned Thanksgiving. The plaintive situation faced by the individual Americans there for that time is not lost sight of in this deeply human musical work.

In ‘Orphans’ we have a mesmerizing, haunting instrumental (possibly one of the best tracks on the album), from Terry Allen’s Laotian crew; Terry Allen was doing this even a couple of years prior to Ry Cooder’s going to Cuba to record Buena Vista Social Club and to Mali to record sessions with late bluesman Ali Farke Toure.

‘Pataya’ (sic) sounds a note that is almost patriotic and is written and sung by Terry’s Asian vocal ‘double,’ Surachai Janyimathorn. Pattaya was a fishing village that was turned into a resort town by American soldiers and remains a bustling tourist spot today. In this song it sounds like Pataya is being attacked and plundered by American marauders, as if they were fighting them instead of Viet Nam and warns Thailand not let this happen. That the Thais and Americans were allies one would never know, based on these lyrics.

‘Let Freedom Ring,’ the final and perhaps the best track on this album, is a round sung by Terry Allen and Surachai Janyimathorn doing the same lyrics in English and in Thai – here, especially, when I first heard the song, I thought it was the same person. This one is an optimistic tune that sounds something like an ending to a Kurosawa film — you know, where the idea is we must unite and trust each other despite all of the war, chaos, and destruction.

Amerasia, twenty years later, is worthy of a review – and while the Vietnam War is now forgotten and buried, replaced by the events of 9/11 and the decade plus-long war that followed, Terry Allen’s experimentation with world music, which neither at the time nor since was ever really given its full measure of discovery or appreciation, has never rung more true.

Jul 242012

Follow it. Be swayed by the Spirit of Compassion.

Mahee Aziz, a Sydney, Australian, who comes originally from Bangladesh, is at the moment globetrotting and bringing to the charmed eyes of mesmerized audiences the potent exoticism of three traditional and canonical, Subcontinental Indian dance forms: the Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, and the North Indian style of Kathak.

And it is our City’s great good fortune that he is coming to Louisville.

Do, on that occasion, let this Pied Piper lead your heart away; and in the compassionate spirit for which deep and spiritual India is famous, turn out in support of the various charities and causes with which Aziz has involved himself: victims of AIDS, underprivileged children, and widows.

Aziz will be our revving up our cultural scene at a planned performance at Shine Wellness Studios on Saturday, July 28, at 7pm, as a second US stop following his scheduled performance at a medical conference in Washington, DC. At his own personal expense he has chosen Louisville as the venue for a benefit show he is putting on to raise money for the Bangladesh charity ‘Change the Lives,’ which is dedicated to helping underprivileged children in Bangladesh.

Let’s not let him make the pilgrimage to our Kentucky land without the welcome and support both his art and this cause deserve. Let’s not disappoint his anticipation of open hands and hearts, and properly wowed eyes and ears, among all us Louisville residents he has come to enchant. For gosh sakes, let’s not send him away empty-handed!

Even more in Bangladesh than in India, where the caste system remains prevalent, the cause of underprivileged children seems to resonate with special urgency among the more elite and middle-classes. Most professional and successful from Bangladesh know personally or are even related to someone who lives amid a level of poverty that makes our own homegrown variety look lavish by comparison. They seem unable to turn away from what they cannot help but see; and I just feel sure Louisvillians will not turn a blind eye to this ambassador of charity, either, when he comes bringing to our own attention his message of human need.

A lot of people in Louisville still may not suspect the size and strength of the transplanted Indian culture that flourishes here in our own community. I’m not sure whether there’s a Kuchipudi instructor in Louisville yet or not – but one can find out on August 18! – because that is India Day at the Belvedere – an event which will be sponsored by ICF (the India Community Foundation) and that promises to be something special.

For sure there will be displayed to the rapt gaze an evocative sampling of the wealth and variety of the timeless magic of Indian dance. My own impression is that the opportunities to see and learn (about) Subcontinental dance forms here in Louisville are equally rich and vibrant as what is being done by our justly-celebrated local dancers who engage in the teaching and performance of Flamenco and Middle Eastern bellydance. Come see what you think.

The Subcontinental dance forms that are currently on the menu in Louisville, complete with instructors, such that anyone can try their hand (and sinuously willowy arms and torsos) at these most magical and mysterious of artistic traditions, are: (and please to imagine in your mind’s ear at this point that light, bonking-sounding, Indian tympanum drumbeat, instead of a Western drum-roll) — Bharatanatyam; Kathak; and of course the infectiously exuberant, contemporary ‘Bollywood’ style.

Since the Kuchipudi tradition is the least-represented here in LV so far, Aziz’ upcoming visit gives us all a chance to catch it live, on the wing. This South Indian dance, from the State of Andhra Pradesh, is the Subcontinental dance form that perhaps a lot of people most think of when they think of Indian dance.

Bharatanatyam, from Tamil Nadu, which is the most likely traditional form of Indian dance, is not dissimilar — the main difference between Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi being that the former has more sculptured and dramatic poses; while Kuchipudi employs more rounded ones, especially with regard to the legs. The Kuchipudi tradition is known for incorporating dancing with, and on, a metal plate called a Tarangam.

Bharatanatyam dancers can be both female or male, resplendent in multi-colored garb and ornamental facial jewelry, executing dance movement that is demarcated by lots of dramatic pauses. It is also this form that is so marked by those characteristic head, neck , and eye movements – those ‘slidey’ gestures they do from the neck up, that seemingly ‘leave their bodies behind,’ in tandem with those signature snaky, waving arms – surely everyone’s idea of the world’s most exotic form of dance.

In terms of the dances’ cultural subtext of associated meaning, Kuchipudi may have more religious connotations with connections to the earth & God, while Bharatanatyam might be more about expressing the inner fire within the dancer’s body.

But speaking of fiery inner expressiveness – love that Bollywood!, which is of course that most exuberant, contemporary , and fully cosmopolitan expression of modern India in dance. We’ve all (I hope) seen it performed in movies and on TV – where you often see it being done in line-dances, or by large groups of dancers; far and away the most nontraditional Indian dance form, it gets people (whole crowds of dancers) self-expressively ‘jumping,’ in masses of seductively graceful, synchronization — seemingly an urban phenomenon (after all, India is a hugely populous place) – and just that much reminiscent of those Hollywood movie extravaganza dance-productions from about the 1930s.

It is (or seems to me, at least) the most seamless adaptation of ancient cultural modes into up-to-the-minute, international modernity that one could have imagined.

As for Kathak tradition, it’s a real border-hopper: Persian-influenced, it may in turn have had an influence on Flamenco, via Gypsies from Rajastan.

But let’s be a bit more thorough about this: there are eight classical dances in India, of which Bharatanatyam is the oldest. (So old, in fact, I find I can’t dig up any definite date of origin, so far does it go back). It’s agreed, though, that at its center is that expression of the fire element. (And of course the most ancient Indian religious texts center on Vedic Fire Sacrifice.) Kuchipudi, a relative youngster, was only (‘only’) founded in the 7th c. AD, by Brahmins – and can be traced to the village by that name, in the State of Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi dance was originally male-only – and that for the longest time – but somewhere along the line our Subcontinental sisters successfully infiltrated and are now possibly in the majority. There is even a ‘gender-bending’ form of Kuchipudi, in which the men execute the dance’s characteristically feminine forms, and vice versa. Kuchipudi has traditionally been used as an individual way to express oneself spiritually; or it can be used theatrically, to tell a story.

And, there is ‘country,’ rural, as opposed to a ‘city’ form of Kuchipudi. The rural: rawer, more primal-looking; the classical (citified) version: cleaner – gentler, more refined. (Sort of the same as if you were to compare the banjo in its ‘city’ and ‘country’ forms, as those were represented in early American musical tradition – if that is not too awful a thing to do – one being Tin Pan Alley, and the other, Dock Boggs). I saw a link to the country version of Kuchipudi in which the male dancer was wearing a mask-cum-head-covering kind-of-a-deal – and out of an adjunct to the whole thing – streamed water. And, in a depiction I saw of the classical version, there was a male dancer dressed as half-man, half-woman: moustachioed on one side of his face; made up with make-up on the other.

And – lest we think that Bollywood style is the only one that puts armies of dancers into the field – there was a world’s record set on December 23, 2010, for the largest number of Kuchipudi dancers ever to perform at the same time: 2,800, at a stadium in Hyderabad, the Andhra Pradesh capital.

The Indian style of music that accompanies these Indian dances in all their forms is uniformly what is termed ‘Carnatic’ (or, simply, Indian) music.

All those people, virtually uncountable numbers, who’ve moved to it and danced to it, through so many centuries.

Follow its drumbeat, and follow your heart. And mark your calendar for July 28th.

Jun 262012

Appalatin is what you might call a gradual, happy accident that’s been happening slowly over roughly the last six years.

It was formed originally by two of its present members, with the others coming in one at a time and adding in their own musical talents and abilities.

Appalatin began as a love of music among people who otherwise would not have known each other or ever played together, starting with Latin music and slowly incorporating the music of Kentucky and surrounding Appalachia.  The Latin music that Appalatin plays is not what we generally think of as ‘Latin music,’ but rather the rural folk music of the Andes and Central America, which blends deftly with the regional music of the rural American, eastern mountain chain.

These musicians’ musical instruments are very ancient:  but the magical thing about them is that there are infinite ways of combining them and creating fresh sounds, all the while trying to capture the same sounds our ancestors listened to — especially when you combine instruments that have not necessarily been together before.  The humble,tiny, peanut-shaped charango of Ecuador; Pan flutes; the mandolin; harmonica; the common guitar; bass; the cowbell, various rattles and shakers; and — those most primitive instruments of all – drum and vocals.

There is literally no one in the world that is creating the sound that Appalatin is and that is Appalatin; however, the members did not set out intentionally to create this sound:  it just happened.  So Appalatin, as a result of its hybrid and serendipitous metamorphosis, has shaped up as some sort of a mellifluous ‘happy-stance,’ if you will.

In preparation for their upcoming, second album, slated to be recorded in August, Appalatin just wrapped up a weekly gig at a local club called Zazoo’s in the St. Matthews area of Louisville, where they had a different musical guest performing with them each week; varying their own style to match, ranging from hosting Andean guests to Appalachian-sounding ones to folksy singer-songwriters to reggae to even a young group of Somali-Kenyan dancers.  The short stint at Zazoo’s allowed Appalatin to keep exploring, honing, expanding, and finding their musical voice.

As an outflow of their unique form of performance-rehearsal, finding out what works and what does not, a song that will be featured on Appalatin’s new CD, one called ‘Down by the Waterside,’ started out as a light Reggae number, the inspiration of a Reggae-influenced member.  While this song strays a bit from the group’s initial roots, it was amiable-sounding enough, until one day, playing outside this year’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs out on the street, they started to play ‘Down by the Waterside’ in an Appalachian-sounding way without really trying to  – and the song just clicked; they suddenly knew they had it right.

So watching Appalatin ‘in process’ is a bit like watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon; and it is something that it is excitingly possible to catch them doing, live.

And speaking of suddenly — Appalatin’s success in Louisville has seemed to be overnight.  Since releasing their first album in March 2011, and they have done everything in Louisville that they set out to do within the next year:  it has all been at remarkable speed.  However, they had actually been working on establishing the foundations of their presence in Louisville four or five years prior to that.  Appalatin is now set to take their music to the next level and toward this end are starting to tour across the rest of Kentucky.  Their plans are to take their music nationally and possibly even internationally at some point; but they will do it at their own signature, gradual, happy-accidentally pace.  They do not rush their music.

But if the energy of their musical development and its dissemination has been tortoise-like by design, the energy of their music in performance is rivetingly in the moment:  always fresh and powerfully with-it, no matter how many times they have played it or you have heard it.

Putting these two dichotomous, dynamic rates of together — theirs seems a perennial spring.

Appalatin will be approaching the recording of their next CD in the same vein and using their second release to platform into their next level.

I am not sure how or where Appalatin will record this next CD; but I am sure that in it will be captured their musical essence — that music-in-the-air, that musical-style-coming-for-the-first-time-ever-to-be, that Appalatin’s members eat, drink, sleep, and breathe in their every available waking moment (and likely while they dream).  That they will capture it like some rare and ephemeral specimen under glass, where all of us can hear and see.

Those of us within the little bubble that is Louisville, many of whom already know them, can all look forward to the next phase of Appalatin’s unfolding evolution – not only in terms of their latest music, but also in terms of their just-budding career.  Lots more magic, lots more to come in the discovery of the happy, infectious, folk-hybrid vibe that is Appalatin – not just for those who are to newly discover them; not just for those who continue along with them for their journey; but also for the members and creators of Appalatin themselves.

Alright, enough of that.

May 192012

The Americana World Fest is coming!! There is another WorldFest in Louisville, and it is held at the Americana Center every June. Here is this years lineup.

AlHamsa/Gypsies of the Nile will be there. They’re a network-ensemble of bellydance performers comprised of women from Southern Indiana and the Louisville, KY area. Performing for this Show, AlHamsa Bellydance (the especially advanced performers) will show us what Fairoza, Raqia, and Zia can do; and we will also be seeing the ensemble’s up-and-coming, new bellydancers, Gypsies of the Nile, directed by Fairoza. Among these performers be on the look-out for Dilara, Mahina, and Dona with her veil fans.

Raqia’s Studio, BellyDance & More, is home for AlHamsa and Friends and is located in downtown New Albany (225 Pearl St.). They dedicate themselves to empowering women through dance – healing body, mind, and spirit. Ladies, of all types, ages, and sizes – y’all come! It’ll be great.

(And if you mistakenly think that you just haven’t got the body-type for it – think again. This group numbers beautiful, beautiful performers, most tastefully and elegantly decked out in costume – I’ve seen them! — from among ladies who shop among the half-sizes.)

Raqia’s annual Toy Drive (last year held at the Grand Theatre in Downtown New Albany) — which donates toys to children of need through charities such as AIM of Kentuckiana, Appalachian Mountains Foster Care, and Brandon House – is a yearly event for belladi bellydancers and Louisvillians alike and gives us all a chance to give back to their community.

Fairoza teaches beginner bellydance at JCPS on Wednesday evenings, concurrent with the school year. The Studio BellyDance & More is dying for every woman in Kentuckiana to come dance with them! For class info, 812-989- 0821.


Self Kuwa (real name Eric Mbrirzi) is a local Conscious/Alternative teen hip/hop performer and former Congolese refugee. He originally hails from the town of Uvira in the South Kivu region of the Congo (Central East, bordering Burundi). He and his courageous family are among the fortunate survivors of the horrific war, genocide, and conflict of that part of the world. This young rap/hip-hop performer has been in the States for five years and speaks English very fluently in addition to his native tongue of Swahili (he raps in both).

SK’s highlights include performing at the Americana Center (where he was mentored by staff member Jared Zarantonello), so this event holds a very important place in his heart. His second album, Swanglish (Swahili+English; released this year), is thirteen tracks of all-original material, which can be downloaded for free (can’t believe how generous this guy is), using this link: — Check it out! (But be sure to come and hear him at Americana as well.)

Self Kuwa will be attending Onondaga Community College in the Fall and hopes to study Computer Technology as a precursor to pursuing a career in Music Production. Watching Self Kuwa’s/Eric’s story blossom is a nothing-short-of-inspiring example of the American Dream unfolding before one’s eyes — he has a bright future ahead of him, and we should be hearing great things about him in years to come.


Nashville-based, Cherokee social-activist singer-songwriter Michael Jacobs advocates a characteristically Native American brand of social change (traditional values, compassion and empathy, peace, environmental concerns, mental/social/spiritual/emotional well-being – human concerns so self-evidently good, so clearly essential, that they shouldn’t need ‘advocacy,’ or require ‘social change,’ but yet do) via his thought-provoking lyrics.

His Cherokee name is ‘Unetlnv Ujeli Dekanogisgo,’ meaning ‘He [Who] Sings for [the] Creator.’ Michael’s latest album, The Art of Peace, was released earlier this year. He tours regularly across the US and Canada: at colleges/universities, festivals, fairs, libraries and museums, and at pow-wows. His debut CD, Sacred Nation, won the 2003 Native American Music Award for Best Independent Recording. His wife, Nicki Jacobs, will perform traditional Native American fancy-shawl dancing.

It’s really going to be a privilege for Louisville to have the Jacobses at Americana Fest this year.


A Musical Passport groove coordinated by percussionist Gary Pahler (Producer of KET’s Louisville Life), Coco Yam offers a cool, relaxed breeze fusion-stew of Afro-Pop/Afro-Beat, Jazz, Salsa, Reggae, and Cha-Cha. Mm. . . mm . . .

Members include KY artist-in-residence Gregory Acker, also the head of the Kyene Drum ensemble (flute/soprano saxophone/percussion/vocals); Kelli Brodersen (Associate Producer for KET’s Louisville Life) (lead vocals); Paul Carney (of Flamenco Louisville) (rhythm guitar); afrobeat educator Jeff Ellis of Frankfort (lead guitar); Yahya Johnson (studied under the great Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji) (percussion/tenor saxophone); Steve Loomis (bass guitar); and Ian Thomas (trombone).

Coco Yam is a (food?) staple at Belvedere’s World Fest; cook! at the World Equestrian Games; and come as a tasty ingredient in the Kentucky Arts Council’s Performing Arts Directory.


There is a rhythmic adage in West Africa that if you dance you drum, and if you drum you dance. So it makes sense that Baba Kenyatta, with his Guinean style drum corps and the recently formed West African Dance Troupe, under the instruction of Christa ‘Twaa’ Whaley, will be joining together.

The invigorating, vibrant sounds of West African drums: djembes, dundunbas, sangbaas, and kenkenis, intermingled with the diaspora of West African dance, will make for a very riveting AmericanaFest performance.

They have performed together before, most recently at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, this past April, as part of Da’Ville Classics.

Both Baba Kenyatta and Christa Twaa Whaley educate local kids in drumming and dancing on a regular basis (in after-school programs, at churches, workshops, at summercamps, etc). For info on the educational programs and performing, please contact Makalani Penman at 502/509-6798 (Sabari Bengoma) and Christá ‘Twaa’ Whaley (accent on the ‘a’) at 240/232-6230 or 240/2DANCE0 (The West African Dance Troupe).


‘CPHR DVN is Hip Hop’s Ascension’: husband and wife (‘Wize Mathematiks’ Cypher and Sultra Diviine) formed CPHR DVN while stationed together in the military, slightly over a decade ago, in Honolulu.

Their metaphysical hip-hop is influenced by sounds of CapeVerde (whence Sultra’s parents hail), Portuguese Ballads, reggae, Trip-Hop (ie., Poritshead), Jamaican Toasting from the late 60s/early 70s, Classical Music, Sounds of Nature, modern rock & hip-hop, avant-garde singers like Bjork, etc.; and funkily interspersed with socio-political, positive, thought-provoking lyrics of a multidimensional nature designed to express love and healing — with a danceable beat.

To summarize in their own words, they ‘are Hip-Hop alchemists, lyrical metaphysicists, and quantum dancers.’


They have released four albums, including last year’s IX KUTZ. . .Return of the Ninja! This album is based on the Nine Levels of Power, or nine cuts (as they are known) of Ninjitsu. Each song symbolizes one of these cuts in sequence, and the audience takes a ‘hip hop, a hippie, a hippie to the hip hip hop,’ following an intro track. And – even beyond – Wize is studying Music Production at UofL and they are about to start work on their next album.

They recently have performed at the JaGa Reggae Fest 2012 in Galveston, TX, and perform as well at a variety of venues around town, such as Solidarity, the Monkey Wrench, and Bearno’s, as well as WorldFest; plus HarvestHoot, Artography (Kenn Parks), ZombieFest, and Metaphysical Rhymes.


‘Nachale’ means ‘Dancing’ in Hindi — Bollywood Dance is not only a style from the movies amalgamated from various folk-styles — it is also a way to exercise and lose weight in India. Nachale imports Bollywood Dance Workout to America (where we sorely need it). But Nachale is not only a workout, it is also a local Bollywood troupe as well — all the brainchild of Bangalore native Vindhya Katta.

Vindhya teaches Nachale at Baptist Milestone East Wellness Center and other locations throughout the City. For more information, contact Vindhya at and 502-767-2116 (phone/text).

Nachale! Naturally!


The mesmerizing guitar of Long Thanh Nguyen — there is nothing like it. He is one of the great electric guitar players in Louisville, but most natives have not yet heard his music since he has been living in relative obscurity since arriving in this country. (Besides guitar, he can also play four traditional instruments, including a one-stringed violin and a sixteen-stringed flattop instrument).

Before coming to the US many decades ago as a Vietnamese War refugee, Mr. Nguyen taught musicians how to play and sing, including people who would later become famous in Saigon. He used to play backup for famous popstars of the day. One of my personal favorite stories about Long Thanh happened last year at the Thanksgiving Vietnamese Pop Variety Concert at the Horseshoe Casino, where he asked a famed Pop singer during a pause if he could come up on stage and join in — and she waved him up with obvious delight. Long Thanh let if riff. Mr. Nguyen has been making fewer appearances lately due to health considerations, but Louisville needs to hear him because Long Thanh plays with all his heart.


Rebabas (a South Sudanese homemade stringed instrument similar to a banjo that with a hypnotic groove), electric guitar, drums, singing, and occasionally keyboard makes up the Rebaba with the core group being co-founder Michael Pac (rebaba, drum), James Malou (drum), David Bior (Rebaba), Jacob Laul (rebaba, singing), Phillip Hakim (Keyboard, Electric Guitar), and occasionally Andrew Evrre (electric guitar), and David Bird (electric guitar).

The topics of the Rebaba music are universal — war & peace, love & women, family, emotions, grief, etc.

The band was formed in 2007 under the mentor-ship of UofI Bloomington Professor Ruth Droppo, although all members — former Sudanese Lost Boys (Dinka Tribe). These true survivors of horrors unimaginable are very fortunate to be living in the US against all odds juggling careers, family, further education, and musical past-time. One of the members without my asking anything about his experience started to be candid about some of his experiences and how it has effected his personality and how it still effects him on day-to-day basis. His and the other members lesson is never underestimate the power of music — the Rebaba, singing, and drumming got them through the horrors of war, being stuck at military camps, during the awkward US adjustment period, and today.

Because the members of the Rebaba all lead busy, healthy, productive lives; it can be difficult for the Rebaba to play — the Rebaba in my opinion of the great bands of any genre that Louisvillians really need to get to know.

One of the Rebaba’s highlights was performing at their first Waterfront WorldFest last year in which they were the favorite performance of Mayor Greg Fischer.

Alright, enough of that!

Mar 032012

Far Eastern Federal District:

# Flag Federal subject Capital/Administrative center
1 Amur Oblast Blagoveshchensk
2 ***Jewish Autonomous Oblast Birobidzhan
3 ***Kamchatka Krai Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
4 Magadan Oblast Magadan
5 Primorsky Krai Vladivostok
6 ***Sakha Republic Yakutsk
7 ***Sakhalin Oblast Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
8 ***Khabarovsk Krai Khabarovsk
9 ***Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Anadyr

***Sakha Republic (Yakutia) (Yakutsk): Sakha, the world’s largest Republic/State/Province, is yet one of the least populous; home of the Yakut people; mostly comprised of permafrost, frozen earth, which if it were to melt via global warming, would render Sakha a vast swampland. The coldest place on earth with the coldest town on earth (Oimyakon),Sakha contains Russia’s abundant diamond reserves and the world’s largest collection of mammoth bones (which doubtless makes the local dog population very happy).  (In Northern Sakha, there is scientific research center dubbed  Plastocene Park which is trying to recreate the WoolyMammoth’s stomping grounds of how it looked millenea ago and hopes to bring back the Wooly Mammoth through cloning.

It’s easy to get stuck in the mire and lost in Sakha; the gravity there pulls you in, making you feel that you can never escape – just like the four geologists in the classic Mikhail Kalatozov film Letter Never Sent or (variously translated) Unsent Letter:  off looking for Russia’s fabled Siberian diamond reserves in a locale that could only be Sakha/Yakutia.

Besides the diamonds and mammoth bones beneath, above the permafrost is a rich musical reserve. There can be a sexism with regard to female musicians, even in our culture, but not in Sakha, where female musicians (including the shamanistic actress/singer Stepanida Borisova, whose voice is supposed to have healed people) at times seems more dominant than those of the men – especially in purely vocal singing and in playing the khomus (which in Altai and Tuva is thought to be a sign of masculinity.

AayarKhaan, a female vocal/khomus trio, is the spitfire with an edge that makes foreign ears (like mine) say WTF. They sing in a traditional style called toyuk, which is a sort of heavy breathing that captures the spirit of sex, birth/motherhood, life, and death, with sharp quick pauses that imitate the sound of bird flight, sounds made by horses (of which they have their own beautiful breed), and other aspects of nature.

Olonkho is what they call the ancient Yakut artform of picturing and meshing together historical faith and spiritual understanding through epic style story-singing, an activity which can last as long as two nights. Dr. Eduard Alekseyev, a famed ethno-musicologist and native Yakut – and one of the musicologists noted for bringing the sounds of Tuvan music to the West — somehow managed to become a Moscow-trained classical musician now living in Boston and associated with Harvard. (Check out his field and video recording links below; if not, I will personally track you down and shoot you for wasting your life).

Diamonds are rock, so you might expect to find rock music there as well; garage bands have ‘surfaced’ in the past twenty years, most notably prog-rock band Cholbon, which seems to be influenced by Pink Floyd and (of course) the Stones. More along the traditional side are the Khatylaev family (headed by Klaydia and German) and Evenk dance and drumming ensemble Gulun.

Dolgans live in the far North, but they are just as impossible to find musical evidence of as they are in Krasnoyarsk. If you play around the links, you will find examples of Western-influenced music (besides rock of course), including techno, pop (MoonGirl), and saccharin (Dups). Sakha has its own musical instruments, including the rustic dramatic fiddle Kyryympa; the Appalachian-sounding stringed Tangsyr; the prominent bass Topsyr; the flat drum Dungur; the rattle Siksiir; the hunting horn Aiaan; and of course the Khomus (or Jew’s Harp).

There is a rising film industry happening in Yakutsk, most notably evident in Andrei Borissov’s By The Will of Genghis Khan, which was shown around the world including the US.

Sakha is the Diamond, musically and culturally, in the Rough – with the emphasis on ‘rough.’

Yakut Instruments:

(All instruments cited here are being demonstrated by the Khatylaev family) Khomus (Jew’s Harp) Kyryympa (Fiddle) Tangsyr (Banjo-like instrument – sounds a little Appalachian) Topsyr (Bass) Dungur (Drum) Siksiir (Rattle) Aiaan (Hunting Horn) By the Will of Genghis Khan (Trailer) By the Will of Genghis Khan (German Trailer – look for the arrow in the mouth shot) Letter Never Sent (Opening Shot) Letter Never Sent Trailer Letter Never Sent/The Unsent Letter (Get this!:  FULL MOVIE) Beauty of the Dolgan and Northern Tungus Culture (with Native Dolgan Music? – Sounds a little Tuvan.) Evenk Dance by Gulun **Dr. Eduard Alekseyev Interview #1 (life story) **Dr. Eduard Alekseyev Interview #2 (life as a music folklorist/ethnomusicologist, expeditions, and experimental/perhaps controversial ways of recording, frustrations with Melodia) **Dr. Eduard Alekseyev Interview #3-(On Olonkho) Dr. Eduard Alekseyev Interview #4 (Book – In Russian only) Dr. Eduard Alekseyev’s Harvard Collection (in Russian only – with Audio Clip of ‘Song of the Horse’) Eduard Alekeseyevs WebPage with Clips of Compositions ****Eduard Alekseyev’s Field Recordings Online ****Eduard Alekeseyev’s Field Video Recordings Online Beautiful Yakut women with HipHop/Rap **Yakut Song – Дьөһөгөй оҕото. Ysyakh (Yakut New Year)-2010 Yakut wind instrument accompaniment Cuban ensemble! Documentary on the Olonkho Epic Tradition Theater of Olonkho: Kyys Djebeliye, Part I. Theater of Olonkho: Kyys Djebeliye. Part II **Pyotr Reshetnikov – Olonkho Performance (52 minutes) Northern Rainbow Festival Singing (Female in Olonkho – Traditional Epic Style Singing) Northern Rainbow Festival Dances Northern Rainbow Festival Part 1 Northern Rainbow Festival Part 2 Stories & Novels by Sakha Authors Olga Podluzhnaya ft ‘103’ Rock Band – Yakut Warriors. Khomus **** Saham Sire (My Yakutia). By ‘103’. Rock from a little Siberian village of Khatassy. **’103′ Rock Band – Ohuokhai Serge (tethering-post). By the ‘103’ band. Rock from a little Siberian village of Khatassy AayarKhaan – Presentation Video Ayarkhaan Elleyada *** AyarKhaan – Playlist (4 Videos) ( Cuckoo, Devine Young Ladies, Daybir’s Song, Autumn Bird Migration) AyarKhaan – Song at Open World Center\ **Ayarhaan – Fireball on Jew’s Harp Ayarkhaan Jew’s Harp from the Sakha Republic Ayarkhaan Initiation into Sacred Knowledge **Ayarkhaan live at Sfinks 30-07-11 **Ayarkhaan (FMM Sines 2011) AyarKhaan – ‘Awakening’ Ayarkhaan’s Saidyko Fedorova is playing khomus (mouth harp) in Yakutsk, Russia Ayarkhaan’s founder, Albina Degtyareva – The legend of the creation of the world Ayarkhaan’s founder, Albina Degtyareva, at Women In Paradise 2010 Female Khomus player Kulichkina Maria Female Khomus Player Maria Kulichkina Maria Kulchkina in Hungary Female Khomus player Fiodorova Natalia Female Khomus player Savvina Anna Stepanida Borisova & Pavel Fajt (Czech Percussionist) Create Account|Sign In Browse|Movies |Upload Shamanic music of Stepanida Borisova Festival Artico II, concierto de Stepanida Borisova Female Yakut signer Lena Spiridonov with chirping birds. Irina sings Psalm 67 as a toyuk (Style of Sakha singing)!ayarkhaan—female-ethno-group-from-republic-of-sakha AyarKhaan samples Ayarkhaan – Dedication to Kudai Bakhsy, the blacksmiths’ patron (on autoplay) Yakut Song by MoonGirl MoonGirl Juliana (Юлияна) – Uhuktuu (‘Awakening’) Osuokhay, Sakha Round Dance Beyond Time and Space – ‘Mira Maximova’

Yakut Song by Mira Maximova Somewhere Over the Rainbow (cover), Mira Maximova Indigo Song by Umira2 (Mira Maximova) (2003) Original Song by Mira Maximova Mira Maximova & Rose Ushkanova – ‘Regeneration’** ‘We are the Champions!’ Performed by Yakut singers. (Legentei, the Khatylaevs, Albina Degtyareva, AyarKhaan, etc.); dedicated to Vancouver 2010. Haunting Yakut Song w/ pictures of Sakha & its people Kim Borisov (male) playing khomus at Kecskemét: Speed of Time Kim Borisov 7th International Congress Festival 2011 Yakutsk Kim Borisov at 1st Moscow Jew’s Harp Festival Male Khomus Player Spiridon Shishigin playing Maultrommel Jofen spiridon shishigin Спиридон Шишигин Spiridon Shishigin Спиридон Шишигин ‘Waltz’ on Khamus by Spiridon Shishigin, Yakutia Spiridon Shishigin Improv I Da Boogie – Berkakit Rock I Da Boogie – ‘I’m So Tired’ ***A little documentary on Klavdia and German Khatylaev and Sakha music.


***Chukotka Autonomous Okrug (Anadyr)

In Chukotka the world comes full circle, North America and Asia almost touching each other, in a geographic ouroboros — a snake circling around and joining its head to its tail, eating itself:  here, where Asia and the Americas gaze across the waters at each other from their most extreme points of East and West, the two continental landscapes start to look similar, with similar plants, similar animals – and even, with the Inuit, similar people.

This being an inaccessible and therefore exotic region of the globe, one knows so little about it (or that’s been true for me, at least).  We all know about the barren, frozen wilderness the land is locked inside; and we know of gold rushes to Alaska — of the gold locked within the land.

Out of such mythic, empty terrains often pour stories of incalculable wealth that defies both the imagination and what one can see on the surface of poverty and harsh living conditions among the inhabitants.  But any lucky adventurer who is going to be among the first to find gold, and strike it really rich, has to look past the dismal and unpromising surface of the place and brave the elements, the conditions, the heavy odds against surviving (not to mention against finding anything) — and just go out exploring.  There’s simply no other way.

As for gold – well, you know me:  couldn’t care less (or, well, you know what I mean).  What I’M after is a different kind of wealth:  world music, and the stranger and more exotic, the less well-known, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

So – IS there music here?  WILL our search be rewarded?  Who knows.  But I’m game – how about you?

Great!  OK, then, get your traveling gear – and log onto LMN’s website to follow along with sound and audio links at the web-version of this article that are posted there.

And now here we are! in the far reaches of the Northern Arctic, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska.

Our predecessors — explorers and outposters who’ve been here before us — include the famous Captain Cook, who visited Cape Schmidt (a secret bomber base during the Cold War) in 1778.  Cook may have encountered a greater diversity of ethnic groups in his time than we will in ours – but what we will find is that we are in what is home not only to the native Chukchi, but also to the Inuit – a people who have spread from across Chukotka  to the Canadian Arctic and then onward to Greenland.

The Yupik Inuit immigrated to Alaska at least 2000 years prior to the Arctic Inuit we know.  Later, different Inuit came across the Bering Strait a thousand years ago in the form of medieval, iron-clad warriors known as the Thule, who used their harpoons in battle. Genghis Kahn’s defeat in Hungary had dried up the silk-road, leaving the Chukotkan Thule starving and iron-less – but they made it across the Bering Strait – and there met the progenitors of the Native Americans – gentle giants, apparently, who took in the Thule/Inuit and showed them their ways. We often think of the Inuit as being the ancestors of the Native Americans – but that is not true – they have different DNA – and these other, gentle-giant people were the First People in Inuit myth (not the Inuit themselves).

The Inuits treated their Native American benefactors in a fashion similar to how the Europeans later treated the Native Americans:  i.e., swooped in, ‘befriended’ the Natives, learned their ways, took their women – and then either displaced or killed them. And the Thule did this on an even more brutal scale than the Europeans since the First People are essentially extinct in that part of the world – perhaps not completely genetically, but in terms of being an identifiable, separate culture.

Wow.  It’s shaping up to look like the (hi)story was – the Americas ur-natives = gentle losers; the Asian ur-natives = pushy winners.  And in fact the Inuit historically have been one of the few ethnic groups that other cultures could not defeat – they staved off the formidable Russian Cossacks (who settled for intermarrying with local Chukchi when establishing Chukotka as part of the Motherland).  The Norse Vikings, of such fearsome reputation, had been living in Greenland peacefully until the Inuit came and drove them out.

(So — the Norse had been living in Greenland long before the Inuit – really? When studying history, expect the unexpected. All those tales about Europeans coming and driving the Native Americans out from their homes and disturbing their way of life – in Greenland it seems to have been the reverse.  But, again, we know what to expect in regions like this:  a lot of legends and myths it is hard to really know the truth of, one way or the other.)

More recently the fighting has more been done over the native populations by strongman third-parties.  Another ‘Eskimo’-type group, called the Inupiat, who live at this latitude on both sides of the Strait, and who used to live on the Diomedes Islands only 28 miles from the US, were removed during WWII to Chukotka by the Russian Government so they wouldn’t be assimilated by the Americans.

Then Russia had to fight off claims from both the USA and Canada, who tried to get the Island for themselves as late as the 1930s.  From the late 20s/early 30s there was a settlement on Wrangel called Ushakovskoye, that lasted only until 2003. I guess maybe because both the conditions and the people there continue to be pretty harsh: there was a string of grisly rapes and murders during the 30s, where the killer turned out to be the Governor of the Island.

Can’t get far in a wilderness like this without knowing something about the plants we can eat and the animals we’ll have to rely on and for game.  So what’s here?

Great! – there’s an abundance of safe forests; berries of different varieties; surprisingly fertile soil (for anybody who wants to do some farming); lots of little cute forest critters for hunting; and even a wealth of walrus tusks and whale and mammoth bone for carving (if one wants to have something to do) (and even something to sell). Chukotka is actually the walrus tusk-carving capital of the world; Whale Bone Alley is a Yttygran Island tourist destination. (Love the online images of the hundreds upon hundreds of walri resting on top of each other on the Chukotka coastline with their tusks sticking out chaotically everywhere – no wonder they often accidentally kill each other if there is one of those mad dashes into the ocean that they make).

And I’d just be willing to bet there are an abundance of mosquitoes, blackflies, horseflies, and deerflies.  Still – there have been people who headed for Chukotka to try to give peace a chance:  it was the jumping-off place for Russian Hippies during the Sixties to try to escape to the West and raise families (and arctic pot?).

Up here the sun does not set in August, which makes for all-day fishing (if you are any sort of a bass master). And there is one part of Chukotka where all of this great wildlife exists, but without the dangerous animals like polar bear and whale that you get in other areas – sort of an Arctic Shangri-La.

But perhaps most important for us as explorers-without-portfolio, Chukotka is the home address of the Siberian Husky (the ‘official dog’ of the Chukchi).  Now, this was an import we successfully spirited away to the US  – and nearly all of it was their own doing:  the Soviets decided for some reason to kill or imprison the wealthy Chukchi dog owners at the very moment the Americans were discovering the breed – which essentially mostly transferred it wholesale from Russia to the US during the 20th c.

But it’s not as if we’ve never given them anything in return.  There is, now, among the Chukchi and Inuit of Chukotka, as one of their most famous iconic images, a carved impy, grinning man, a symbol of luck, called a billiken – that was (somehow) imported from Kansas City (the creator was a someone named Florence Pretz).

Although the billiken was only introduced into the remote regions of the Arctic slightly over a hundred years ago, it has already become a staple of Chukchi and Inuit culture, with the purpose of absorbing bad karma, and is regarded as if it has been part of these cultures for thousands of years. Billikens are similar to the Kewpie, which was a commercial good luck charm and a common design for American commercial crap a hundred years ago – but which was good luck only for the businessmen who made money off of it.  The (in-this-respect luckless) Chukchi and Inuit of Chukota and Alaska took the design and adopted it into their walrus tusk-carving and whale bone carvings (as practiced in Uelen, in the easternmost, tippy-tip District of Chukotsky) – and claimed it was an ancient, native symbol of luck to gullible tourists.

But this is only one of the two-legged species of fortunehunters that have been known to prowl Chukotka over the years, bringing both good and ill luck.

Chukotka, though undeniably one of the poorest regions in all the Russias, with in the not-too-distant past no roads going into it so that it was almost impassable, has always been famous as a place of wealth, where gold, platinum, and silver could be mined.  As a result its once-isolated Anadyr is, I think, currently one of ex-Russia’s ten richest cities.  And now the Okrug has also struck it rich, mainly thanks to former Governor and multi-gazillionaire Roman Abramovich (born in Saratov, orphaned, and raised by an uncle – who, as luck would have it, is the primary owner of Millhouse Capital and the Chelsea Football Club).  Abramovich put his own money into turning the region from Down on Its Luck and God-Forsaken to Blessed by Fortune in a matter of years. Places that did not have electricity ten or fifteen ago now have Internet; and I would also the roads and infrastructure are also greatly improved.

Whether Roman Abramovich’s motives are pure or if he’s just doing it in order to exploit the area’s natural resources is not clear.  He has been accused of engaging in many illegal activities in connection with his business practices, such as blackmail, bribery, loan fraud, illegal share-dilution, antitrust violations, and even of having ties to the Russian mob.  (He is a typical Russian millionaire in other words.)

Also, it is unclear what the negative environmental impact on the region will be like in ten years’ time. What is clear is that Abramovich is still very popular (almost becoming mythic in local culture):  beloved by the Chukotkan people because, as Governor from 2000-2008, he single-handedly created a better life all-around for a lot of people and took a lot of them out of abject poverty.

The ourobos devours itself and eats its own tail.  Resources are tapped; resources depleted.  Depression goes to Boom . . . then on to Bust.  Already, despite Chukotka’s vastly-improved GDP, there have been boom towns, formerly with large populations, that are now being dismantled and liquidated due to the fact they have exhausted their excavation of mineral wealth.

Only 51 miles from the American shore is Cape Dezhnev — home to one of the most brutal gulags ever to exist – not really. The definitive book about it, As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me, by Austrian WWII soldier Cornelius Rost (as told to author Josef Martin Bauer), chronicles his internment there, his escape and temporary adoption by the Chukchi, and his subsequent odyssey on foot across Russia through Central Asia and Iran, and finally home.  (I would have gone 51 miles in the other direction, but that is just me.)

This epic tale has been turned into two films, so far – but I am not sure but that it might only be a tall tale – a hoax.  By Chukotka-invading golddiggers.  For there was no concentration camp in Cape Dezhnev (ah ha see!) and neither is there any documentation that he was rescued.

But as for us — after all our journeying across all this frigid ice and snow – is there any music here, or is it all just fable?  And if there is any music to be found here — will we get lucky enough to be able to locate and then get some out?

Ergyron: the official State professional music and dance ensemble in Chukotka – a sure-enough vein that we can mine, ongoing.  It is not only dedicated to keeping the musical spirit of the two main ethnic groups – the Chukchi and the Inuit – alive; but also that of the Koryaks, the Chuvans, and the reindeer-herding Lamuts.

The Chukchi have strong female musicians from more than a single generation: Galina Tagriny (whom I would assume is no longer alive); Olga Letykai, a middle-aged woman who travels around the world demonstrating Chukchi music and dance (and then posting her demos on YouTube); and Veronica Usholik (who looks from online to be in her thirties), who not only performs Chukchi traditional music and dance but also incorporates it into her Rock band Gubernator. Usholik has the additional interesting talent of being able to sing ventriloquially while playing the jew’s harp.  Not all of the singers are women – there is elderly throat singerAlbert Ragtuvje.

I almost forgot to talk about the Ergyron ensemble – the official touring ensemble of the Chukchi Okrug.  They not only sing music & dance from the Chukchi and Inuit, but also the lesser known ethnic groups  such ast the Koryaks, the Chuvans, and the reindeer-herding Lamuts, etc.  They have a really haunting song called Nunlingran which is a town in the Providencia District of Chukotka.

Chukchi and Inuit singing/throat-singing incorporates imitations of a widely-varying bunch of sounds:  animals, seagulls and other birds, other kinds of wildlife, various sounds of nature (and what sounds like sex). Very gritty, primal stuff — but Chukchi music can also be very harmonious and melodic. The Inuit use high-pitched-squeals and throaty-deep sounds – I cannot tell the difference when it is a male singer or female singer since they have the same vocal style – although there seems to be more female musicians than men.

There is a well-known Chukchi reindeer-slaughtering festival, held annually in the inland town of Amguema, called Vylgynkoranymat, that features singing and dancing; that sounds pretty fascinating — but I can’t find any video of it.  (So no gold for us this time.  But we’ll keep looking.)

There seems to be a very tiny music scene (one of the bands seems to be called CHE_тыре стула) and some clubs in the town of Provideniya (where the Yupiks, who are among the descendants of the ferocious Thule, live). This local music seems to have sprung up due to the fact that this town became the tourist mecca of choice for American visitors from Alaska after global warming (the political kind) first melted the icy tensions of the Cold War.

In this particular region of Chukotka, around Provideniya, the music seems more Western Russian and American (and the Native Chukchi and Inuit seem to be on a distant glacier). Uh-oh.  Bummer.  Snake-eating-tail here.  All this journey – all this way – all this native tradition, for God’s sake all throughout this huge, magnificent region of the world and it’s in danger of getting devoured by contemporary, same-old, same-old Western stuff from just a few more miles to the East – where we started out. Chukchi Dance (Ergyron) Chukotka “The Ergyron Ensemble” Fribourg 2008 part 2 Chukotka “The Ergyron Ensemble” Fribourg 2008 part 1 **Jewish Songs in the Chukchi (There were Jewish prisoners in the Gulag and more on Jewish Music when we explore Jewish Oblast) Chukchi Lullabies ** Ergyron & Gailna Tagriny, Lullabies, cranes, reindeer, etc. ERGYRON Kuthk & the mice (music: Ergyron) (1985′ animation movie based on the ancient Chukchi legend “Tale about raven Kutkh”. -”who knew that the Chukchi telling of the formation of the world is essentially a Tom & Jerry cartoon?” Chukotka Dance Troop performs at Tchir Tchayan, Part II Chukotka on Internationaal Salland festival Olga Letykai , Alissa Csonka, Ugnugnu (throatsinging (very sexual like and jew harp) Olga Letykai “La danse du feu” Browse|Movies |Upload Olga Letykai Csonka “Pour Toutes Les Mamans” Young Chukchi Throat-singer Колыбельная (beautifully haunting) YouTube Channel of Olga Letykai Olga Letykai (throatsinging & jew harp) Olga Letykai (throatsinging, chanting & drumming) Albert Ragtuvje Enmelen Chukotka Russia (beautiful high and deep throaty)

(Note: Emmelen is a Russian town with both a Chukchi & a Yupik population in the Providencia District) **Enmelen by Larisa Tnanaut Enmelen A. Raqtuwie, Larisa Tnanaut, Olga Letykai ** Olga Letykai Csonka Chukotka chukchi people enmelen 2.MOV Verinica USHOLIK (leader of Gubernator) Verinica USHOLIK @ Art Arktic Festival 2007 Afterparty Female Chukot Throat-singing similar to Native American