Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at age 95, inspired some great music. Here is a story from MTV on Mandela’s musical legacy:
Nelson Mandela, the iconic anti-apartheid leader who helped end nearly 50 years of racial segregation by a white minority government in South Africa, died on Thursday (December 5) at the age of 95 after a series of lung infections. During his lifetime his battle to end apartheid was supported by musicians from around the world.
As early as the mid-1980s, ska band the Special AKA released a protest song called “Free Nelson Mandela,” which would give way to large-scale concerts and tributes like London’s Wembley stadium performance (also known as the Free Nelson Mandela Concert). All aimed to help raise awareness of Mandela’s brave work to end the practice of segregation in South Africa. Later, music-loving Mandela would even reveal that he was a major fan of U.K. pop sensations the Spice Girls. (Continue Reading…)
“Free Nelson Mandela,” presented with a nice slideshow, is above. It was written by band member Jerry Dammers.
Wikipedia has the lineup for “Sun City” (better known as “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City), which was written and co-produced (with Arthur Baker) by Steve Van Zandt, a longtime member of the E Street Band. The video, probably the best single-issue celebrity musicians one-offs, was a product of Artists United Against Apartheid. A lot of talent was involved:
When Van Zandt was finished writing “Sun City”, he, Baker and Schechter spent the next several months searching for artists to participate in recording it. Van Zandt initially declined to invite Bruce Springsteen, not wanting to take advantage of their friendship, but Schechter had no problem asking himself; Springsteen accepted the invitation. Van Zandt was also shy about calling legendary jazz artist Miles Davis, whom Schechter also contacted; with minimal persuasion, Davis also accepted. Eventually, Van Zandt, Baker and Schechter would gather a wide array of artists, including Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Fat Boys, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run DMC, Peter Gabriel, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Jackson Browne and then-girlfriend Daryl Hannah, U2, George Clinton,Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Peter Wolf, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil-Scott Heron, Nona Hendryx, Pete Townshend, Pat Benatar, Clarence Clemons, and Joey Ramone. (Continue Reading…)
One of the more amusing things about Mandela and music–and the world’s way of being ironic–is that he was a Spice Girls fan. I guess he was Courageous Spice.
Like many people my age (and younger), my impressions of the world, for better or worse, are shaped by video. I was thoroughly convinced for years that World War II was in black and white until about the middle of 1944, when suddenly it became a full color affair. The Pacific Theater apparently was colorized first.
Likewise, my impression of France is from video. (I was sort of there there only once, and barely. I covered a trade show in Geneva, Switzerland that was so crowded that our hotel was across the border in France. We had to carry our passports to get to and from the exhibition hall.) Charles Trenet is my idea of France. You’ll know what I mean after a few bars.
The song above is “Douce France,” which starts about a minute into the video. Old jazz people used to say that somebody who “got” jazz and had sufficient skills was swinging, no matter what the tempo of the song. It is an inherent understanding of what differentiates jazz from stodgier forms of music. It’s an ethos more than a style. Anyone with any doubts that the French can swing should check out Trenet and the pianist, especially in the second half of the song. I am assuming the pianist is French.
The song below is “La Mer.” It’s fascinating: It turns out that “Beyond the Sea” — perhaps Bobby Darin’s greatest hit — is a cover of this song, at least musically. The lyrics, apparently, are completely different. Trenet’s version is a bit slower, but great.
Here is a bit of a profile of Trenet at RFI music. I am purposefully pulling out the passage about the war years, which clearly presented choices for entertainers in occupied countries:
At the start of WWII, Charles Trenet, who had become a national hero, was mobilized. He was barracked at the military base of Salon-de-Provence until he was demobilized in June 40. Then he moved back to Paris, where the cultural and night scenes were still in full swing despite the German occupation. In the French capital, he would perform at the Folies-Bergère or at the Gaieté Parisienne (two famous cabarets) in front of a public often consisting of German officers and soldiers. The collaborationist press tried to compromise his name and published that ‘Trenet’ was the anagram of ‘Netter’—a Jewish name. But the singer was able to show his family tree to the German authorities, proving he had no Jewish origin. This act of self-defense will be reproached to him long after the end of the war. Like many other artists of the time, he chose to go on entertaining the occupant rather than sacrifice his career, showing little interest in the Jewish issue—an attitude that some still regard as collaboration. What’s more, he even agreed, when asked by the German authorities, to go and sing for the French prisoners in Germany (Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier did the same). However, although he spoke perfect German, Trenet would always refuse to speak that language or to socialize with the occupant at the parties thrown after the concerts.
During the Liberation the artist did not suffer from the suspicious and accusing climate. Nevertheless he decided to move to America where he lived for a few years. It did not take long before the Americans were fond of the French singer. After a few triumphant concerts at the Bagdad in New York, Trenet became a big hit in the States and was approached by Hollywood. He met the likes of George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong and stroke up a long-lasting friendship with Charlie Chaplin. His song ‘La Mer’, which according to the legend he had composed with Leo Chauliac on a train in 1943, was recorded in 1946. It was immediately translated into English by Jack Lawrence and became ‘Beyond the sea’. It was a smashing success in the English-speaking world where it became a classic. About 4000 covers were made of ‘La Mer’ across the world. (Continue Reading…)
The 4,000 figure in the last sentence is, of course, a mistake. Trenet died in 2001 at age 88.
Acoustic Guitar Masters
R&B, Soul and Funk
Here is the beginning of Encyclopedia.com’s profile of the multi-talented Paul Robeson, one of the most important figures — musical and otherwise — of the twentieth century:
Paul Robeson—singer, actor, civil rights activist, law school graduate, athlete, scholar, author— was perhaps the best known and most widely respected black American of the 1930s and 1940s. Robeson was also a staunch supporter of the Soviet Union, and a man, later in his life, widely vilified and censored for his frankness and unyielding views on issues to which public opinion ran contrary. As a young man, Robeson was virile, charismatic, eloquent, and powerful. He learned to speak more than 20 languages in order to break down the barriers of race and ignorance throughout the world, and yet, as Sterling Stuckey pointed out in the New York Times Book Review, for the last 25 years of his life his was “a great whisper and a greater silence in black America.”Born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1898, Robeson was spared most of the daily brutalities suffered by African Americans around the turn of the century. But his family was not totally free from hardship. Robeson’s mother died from a stove-fire accident when he was six. His father, a runaway slave who became a pastor, was removed from an early ministerial position. Nonetheless, from his father Robeson learned diligence and an “unshakable dignity and courage in spite of the press of racism and poverty.” These characteristics, Stuckey noted, defined Robeson’s approach in his beliefs and actions throughout his life. (Continue Reading…)
The above video of of Robeson singing Ol’ Man River in Showboat – which was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II – is the best known clip of Robeson. Below, Robeson sings Vi Azoy Lebt der Kayser? (How Does the Czar Drink Tea?). The song, sung in Yiddish, satirizes Czarist Russia. More information, including a translation, is provided here and here.
The erhu is a stringed instrument played in China, as Wikipedia explains:
The erhu (二胡; pinyin: èrhú, [êɻxǔ]) is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, more specifically a spike fiddle, which may also be called a “southern fiddle”, and sometimes known in the Western world as the “Chinese violin” or a “Chinese two-stringed fiddle”. It is used as a solo instrument as well as in small ensembles and large orchestras. It is the most popular of the huqin family of traditional bowed string instruments used by various ethnic groups of China. A very versatile instrument, the erhu is used in both traditional and contemporary music arrangements, such as in pop, rock, jazz, etc. (Continue Reading…)
Yu Hong Mei is a leading erhu player. Here is her Facebook page and a profile at Pro Musicis:
YU Hongmei was selected for the Pro Musicis International Award in 2001, the very first erhuist to achieve this distinction. Currently she is a Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and master solo performer of erhu music. She has been performing on the erhu since the age of eight and has earned international recognition for her mature artistry. She performed her New York solo debut recital in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall under the auspices of Pro Musicis. (Continue Reading…)
The music is quite beautiful. The piece below, strangely, reminds me of Aaron Copland.
I don’t have too much to say about Damien Saez because I don’t speak French. I notice that when I watch a sporting event with the sound off I notice more and enjoy it in a different way. It’s the same with music, though the variable in this case is language, not volume. These are great videos, though I only have a general idea of what Saez is getting at. Whatever the specifics are, it clearly isn’t complimentary to capitalism.
Obviously there is a lot of social commentary in each of the videos. On a Pas la Thune (above) is particularly haunting, with the lyrics–whatever they are–playing over what in essence are home movies of a desperately poor but loving family. You don’t have to speak French to know what Saez is saying once you see the last few seconds. The sheer video making of J’accuse, below is impressive.
Here is AllMusic’s bio on Saez:
Damien Saez was a French singer/songwriter who first studied music — piano — at the Conservatoire National de Région de Dijon before signing to Island/Universal in 1999. Influenced by classic rock artists such as Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, and U2, as well as ’90s giants Jeff Buckley, Blur, and Radiohead, Saez — born in Savoy, France on August 1, 1977 — recorded and released his first album, Jours Étranges, late in 1999, and the collection sold well and earned him quite a good number of plaudits. 2001 saw the release of his first collection of poems, À Ton Nom, and in 2002, he released album number two, God Blesse — which was meant to be a companion to the online experimental instrumental album Katagena available as a free for download and contained the highly controversial single “Sexe.” His 2004 album, Debbie, was his last for Island/Universal. In April of 2008, he released his fourth album, Killing the Lamb. (Continue Reading…)
A previous post containing a clip of Shankar on The Dick Cavett Show — in which the fact that Shankar’s daughter is Norah Jones is discussed — may have gotten the most traffic this site has even gotten. Above, Shankar plays an unnamed song with daughter Anoushka and Tanmoy Bose on tabla in Santa Cruz in 2007, according to the notes.
The two clips here — Op een Gopp above and A Chassid in Amsterdam below — are from the same concert. The show was part of this year’s Sziget Festival which is held annually on the island of Óbudai-sziget in Budapest, Hungary. I usually don’t do that, but the performance is so good and the electricity level so high that it was an easy choice. Here is a definition of klezmer:
Klezmer (Yiddish כליזמר or קלעזמער, pl כליזמר,כליזמרים, from Hebrew כלי זמר — instruments of music) is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe. Played by professional musicians called klezmorim, the genre originally consisted largely of dance tunes and instrumental display pieces for weddings and other celebrations. Continue Reading…
This site offers a more extensive explanation.
The Amersterdam Klezmer Band seems to add elements of hip-hop to klezmer. That sounds odd. But the last half of A Chassid in Amsterdam shows that it makes sense. On a side note, the singer makes me think of Rocky Balboa’s brother-in-law Paulie.
The band’s story:
The Amsterdam Klezmer Band story started in 1996. A few boys from Amsterdam with a Jewish background got inspired by the catchy sounds of Klezmer and Balkan music and started busking. Since that time the band has evolved into a seven-member band now representing the finest amongst the Klezmer and Balkan music scene in Europe. Continue Reading…