LAMC At Summerstage: Nathy Peluso and Ile

By Ernest Barteldes

Latin Alternative Music Conference

At Summerstage in Central Park

Nathy Peluso and Ile

New York, NY

July 10th, 2019

 

The heat and intense humidity in the air did not stop fans from flocking to Central Park for the first round of free shows scheduled at part of the 20th Anniversary of the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City, which featured Argentinean singer/rapper Nathy Peluso, Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Ile and Mexican pop singer-songwriter Ximena Sariñana.

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Nathy Peluso/Karlo X. Ramos

Peluso came on stage with a small backing band featuring a mix of soul, rock and hip-hop – featuring the latter during most of the set. She had great energy on stage, dancing along with the instrumental sections of every tune. One of the highlights came with a rap based on the chorus of the Cher hit “Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” whose English verses she sang herself.

The set also featured an instrumental mambo which she described as “the wonderful sound” showcasing her backup band, to whom she gyrated throughout, finally confessing that she is “a mambo killer” as a (probable) excuse for not singing it.

After a brief break, Puerto Rican singer (and former Calle 13 member) Ile took to the stage backed by a large band featuring trombones, percussion, bass, electric and acoustic guitars and drums featuring songs with strong Afro-Caribbean influence quite distant from what she did with her previous group. Her opening song had a strong political message, pointing fingers at those who oppress and try to silence the voice of her native land. She followed that with “Invenclble,” a tune with a pop-meets-Latin beat that she described as something she wrote to embrace her hormones and the realities of being a woman.

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Ile/Ernest Barteldes

She followed that with “Temes,” a bolero “against that patriarchy with the clear intention of destroying it,” with lyrics that repeatedly asked “why do you fear me?” in Spanish. Next came “Côncavo,” a bolero which descriptive lyrics that would probably be labeled “explicit” if it had been recorded in English, with subtle references to specific body parts and passions involving them.

Among the highlights was a tune that featured nothing but drums played by the entire group that highlighted the problems faced by Puerto Rico – she mentioned the recent arrests of top Puerto Rico officials over corruption charges, and ended the tune urging the audience to “stop voting for stupid people” without naming anyone in particular.

She closed the set with “Dejame Decirte,” a straight salsa written in collaboration with Eddie Palmeri – it was a great closing that highlighted Ile’s range, which goes from more folk-driven music to pop and pretty much every other Latin influence.

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Ile/Ernest Barteldes

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Music to Listen to in June: Bryant Park, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and Summerstage

By Ernest Barteldes 

In spite of a few rainy days and chilly mornings, June is finally here and with it comes the much-awaited outdoor concert series throughout the city at venues such as BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn (which opened on June 4th with an appearance by the great Patti LaBelle, while at Summerstage in Central Park things kicked off that same night with a lineup headed by the also legendary George Clinton & Funkadelic – making this season a promising one.  

Here I have some recommendations for the month of June, highlighting the free concerts. There are several benefits, but they are mostly sold out and honesty they don’t need my input about them anyway. For more details, please refer to the hyperlinks. 

On Friday, June 7th the music of the Caribbean is celebrated at The Bryant Park Latin Festival with a dance party that will include bachata, merengue and salsa. Headlined by La Sonora Nuyorkina and several guests, the five-hour event should be quite interesting – especially for lovers of Latin Music 

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IBEYI

On June 9thBrooklyn receives Cuban-French twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz, who together form IBEYI. They are the daughters of late conguero Miguel “Anga” Diaz, a member of The Buena Vista Social Club. Their music is a blend of traditional and modern music, ranging from hip-hop to Yoruba and much more in between. The evening is rounded out by Philly-based one-woman band Orion Sun and Sudan Archives, the latter who also blends traditional and contemporary music into his music.  

The legacy of the great saxophonist John Coltrane is remembered with a concert in Central Park on June 15th featuring an all-star lineup of jazz musicians: The Coltrane – De Johnette – Garrison Trio, formed by Ravi Coltrane (John and Alice Coltrane’s son), veteran drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Matthew Garrison. The opener will be jazz cellist Brandee Younger, It is one of these concerts that is not to be missed. 

The Stonewall Riots that were seminal for the early days of the quest for LGBTQ rights in America (although there had been a solid movement going on for quite some time before that)  celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019, and this is commemorated with multiple events – at Summerstage, the all-male comedy ballet company, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, perform classic works from their own perspective using great humor and class.  

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Musiq Soulchild (Ernest Barteldes)

Sheila E. is probably best known for her association with Prince in the 80s, but she has had a long career of her own both as a bandleader and a sidewoman for the likes of Marvin Gaye, Ringo and His All-Starr Band and Beyonce, to name a few. For this night, dubbed “Only in Queens Festival,” she leads a band that includes contemporary soul singer Musiq Souchild and local Queens dancehall artist Kranium 

Les Negresses Vertes is a French alternative band with a long history dating back from the 80s. formed by a group of Parisian friends with no serious professional backgrounds, they were originally led by singer-songwriter Helno, but his time in the band was brief- he was a heroin addict and ultimately died from consequences of his drug abuse in 1993. After some lineup changes following his death, the band continued performing and adopted a more dub-influenced sound. They will be heading the lineup for Fete de la Musique on Sunday, June 24 in Central Park.

Chucho Valdés is undoubtedly one of the greatest Cuban pianists of his generation – following in the footsteps of his father, Bebo Valdés (1918-2013) and the father of Chuchito Valdés, he is one of the most respected musicians from his country, and one of the most innovative as well. Still active at 78, he recently released Jazz Bata 2, a sequel of sorts of his seminal 1972 album of the same name. Sharing the bill is Cuban-born, New York-based drummer Dafnis Prieto, another creative voice  that takes the music to the next generation. They appear at Celebrate Brooklyn on June 26.  

The month closes with Concha Buika, a fantastic Spanish singer with a dramatic voice that blends flamenco, jazz, Afro-fusion and R&B into her unique sound. She has collaborated over the years with the likes of Portuguese fado singer Mariza, Brazil’s Ivan Lins and many more. She is one of the few Afro-European flamenco singers out there, and she represents all of her heritage without losing her signature dramatic sound that is recognizable the moment you hear her voice. Buika appears at Celebrate Brooklyn on June 30 

Music Reviews: Two From Poland, One From Brazil

By Ernest Barteldes

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As I have written here before, Warsaw-based Monika Brodka has had an interesting trajectory over her career.  A winner of Poland’s version of Idol back in 2004, she started out her recording career with two very mainstream albums early on that got her a lot of radio play (the songs from those releases are still featured on pop radio to this day), but then she took a whole different direction: she went through a four-year hiatus and reemerged with Granda (2010, Sony Music), which took her music to a more alternative direction, and followed that up with the English-language EP Lax (Kayax,  2012) and more recently Clashes (Kayax, 2016), which took her music to even more experimental territory.

The last three releases are the focus of MTV Unplugged (Kayax, 2019), her first release captured live in the southeastern city of Lublin in 2018 in reimagined versions that depart dramatically from the studio versions of the same tunes, starting with “Can’t Wait for War,” which features what at first I thought was a Theremin but turned out to be a saw played with a bow – something that I have only heard before on the New York City subway. Her take on “Varsovie,” an ode to her adopted city is also surprising, with mostly acoustic elements replacing the mostly electronic feel of the studio recording.

Although it’s an “unplugged” album, there are several non-acoustic instruments on the record – Brodka plays a semi-acoustic guitar, and so does her lead guitarist. While her bass player performs with a ukulele bass for most of the set, an electric bass (probably a Fender P-bass) can be heard on some tracks.

Notable tracks include “Syberia,”which brings l guest Krszystof Zalewski on guitar and vocals – it’s quite an intimate setting, with Brodka playing a six-string banjo (tuned as a guitar).  The tune is not that different from the studio recording, which was also played on acoustic guitar, but the two-part harmonies and the banjo bring an extra texture to the song, which is mostly a filler on Granda, and also “Santa Muerte,” an English-language tune from Clashes that features fellow Idol alum Dawid Podsiało. The arrangement that is incredibly close to American bluegrass thanks to Brodka’s banjo, the strings and the wandering saw, which adds an eerie feel to the tune.

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Anna Maria Jopek has a history of collaborating with many respected musicians including Brazil’s Ivan Lins, France’s Mino Cinelu and others, but Ulotne (“Elusive,” Universal Music Polska, 2018) is only her third album done as a full collaboration with another artist (the others being Upojenie, her 2002 collaboration with Pat Metheny and Minione, her 2017 album with Gonzalo Rubalcaba), in this case being legendary saxophonist Branford Marsalis, with whom she recorded a couple of tracks with on 2008’s live Jo & Co (Universal Music Polska).

Featuring mostly original material penned by Jopek and her husband and main collaborator Marcin Kidryński, the album flows beautifully track by track – the musicians (rounded out by Cinelu, Maria Pomianowska, Robert Kubiszyn, Pedro Nazaruk, Marcin Wasilewski, and Atom String Quartet) have all worked together before either on a live format or in the studio, and the chemistry can immediately be felt throughout. Marsalis is featured on every track, while the supporting band gives a solid backup without getting in the way. As in most Jopek album, there are a plenty of multi-tracked vocals, but they are subtler than in earlier releases – the direction here seems to be make everything as organic as possible.

The deluxe version of the album features four extra tracks, one being Pożegnanie z Marią, a song beautifully recorded as a tribute to recently deceased trumpeter Tomaz Stanko, who wrote the tune.

 

Carnaval in Brazil is fast approaching, and given the election of extreme right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, who was voted in with promises of restoring “traditional values” to the country, it is expected that some will not be too happy about it. One of the first songs to reflect this is “Proibido o Carnaval,” a single by openly gay singer Daniela Mercury and legendary singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso.

The song, which translates as “Forbidden Carnaval” wax against censorship and the anti-LGBT attitude of Bolsonaro and his cabinet, turning his own words against him and vowing not to allow the right spoil the party for those who don’t want to become stereotypes.

I am not sure how the tune has been received in Brazil, but after several plays on my phone I can say that some will frown upon the words – but it’s not like anyone who agrees with Veloso and Mercury will care.

Anoushka Shankar + My Brightest Diamond at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Anoushka Shankar

Anoushka Shankar + 

My Brightest Diamond 

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn 

July 20, 2018 

By Ernest Barteldes 

 

On what turned out to be a seasonably mild night in Brooklyn, musical experimentalist Shara Nova, who goes by the “band” name of My Brightest Diamond came on backed by her own programmed keyboard and a drummer showed exactly what is wrong with the whole DYI movement: artists get zero feedback from other people and the room and become far too self-indulgent.  

Nova opened her set with the participation of the Brooklyn Youth Choir, doing two numbers that sounded brilliant and hopeful, but soon after that it was a collection of tunes with strong influence from 70s music, especially the B-52s, David Bowie and Yoko Ono (if that makes any sense). She did go into a quieter mode when she played – on guitar – a lullaby about her young son, but it was mostly electronic music with shrieked vocals and little else.  

After a brief break, sitarist Anoushka Shankar came on backed by bass, percussion and hand pans. The music, as she stated, was inspired by the refugee situation in Europe and also the political situation Stateside – she didn’t dwell on it as she described it, but one could feel the feeling in the melodies.  The jazz influences were tangible, but there was something intensely personal with the music.  

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My Brightest Diamond

Mariza at Summerstage/Central Park

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The Stage at Central Park

Summerstage at Central Park

June 23, 2018

New York, NY

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Mariza

On her debut Summerstage appearance,  Angolan-born and Portugal-based Mariza took to the stage backed by a five-piece band (accordion, percussion, Portuguese guitar, acoustic guitar and bass) to promote mostly material from her self-titled album (Warner Portugal, 2018), which of this writing was not yet available in the US market even though she mentioned it several times during the show.

The set opened with “Sou do Fado,” a traditional tune that has become a staple on her performances – it is a longing number in which she stretches her vocals, utilizing the melisma that are so common to the genre.  She then followed by a ballad  with few fado characteristics – something that has become more and more common on her records starting from 2008’s Terra, which included tunes by  Brazil’s Ivan Lins and also a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” which she performed during the tour in support of that album that year.

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Mariza

Among the highlights was an original tune named “Ja Passou,” a ballad dedicated to her young son. The expression is common in Portugal, and it means that the “pain is over” (the term was actually used on the Luso-Portuguese version of “Let It Go” from the soundtrack of the movie “Frozen”), and it is usually told to young children when they get hurt in some way.

Hearing Mariza in an outdoor setting was quite refreshing, because in previous U.S. stops she mostly performed in theaters, and was interesting to hear her outdoors, and wondered how the outside temperature would affect her singing.  The truth is, it didn’t, and she sang with the same potency and passion that she has delivered in previous shows.

 

Music Review: Alexis Cole’s You’d Be So Nice to come Home To

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

Backed by the celebrated New York-based One For All Sextet (Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Jim Rotondi: trumpet; Steve Davis: trombone; David Hazeltine: piano; John Webber: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums), vocalist Alexis Cole brings a collection of jazz standards taking full advantage of the chemistry among the musicians. The group swings hard on the opening track “Golden Earrings,” with plenty of improvisation from Rotondi, Davis and Alexander.  “Delilah” opens a bit downtempo then evolves into walking bass-dominated blues, which seems to put Cole right in her comfort zone.  The ensemble takes Mancini/Mercer’s “Moon River” to a surprising direction – instead of the slow ballad we have all gotten accustomed to hear over the decades, here it is played quite up-tempo – bringing a new meaning to the “two drifters” mentioned in the lyrics – their quest is a happy one this time around.

Maybe the best known recording of “You’ve Changed” was done by Billie Holiday on 1958’s “Lady in Satin,” which turned out to be her last album released in her lifetime. Alexis Cole does not seem to have sought inspiration on that beautifully sad track, but instead she seems to draw from Ella Fitzgerald’s 1966 version, making it her own with her honestly heartfelt rendition. “A Beautiful Friendship” seems at first to lament the end of a friendship but later it is revealed that the couple is no longer in “the friend zone” and are now lovers. Originally recorded by Ella Fitzgerald as a ballad, here it has more of a bluesy feel in which Cole stretches her vocal range, and it also features a nice call-and-response between Rotondi and Cole throughout.

The title track (by Cole Porter) closes the disc the same way it began: a high-energy, swinging number highlighting all performers.  The disc seems to look back at past eras of jazz vocalists but not as something retro – this is probably indicating where vocal-band jazz should be going into the next decades.

 

You’d Be So Nice to come Home To

Alexis Cole with One For All

Venus Records, Inc.

Confronting Bigotry and Xenophobia With Dance

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photo by Dominik Werner

Theater review: “INTRO” by Dada von Bzdülöw

Bohemian National Hall

October 1, 2017

New York, NY

 

by Ernest Barteldes

 

During a recent visit to Poland last September, my wife Renata and I made plans to meet with a couple who I’ll call Lukasz and Dorota. It was well after 10 PM by then, and since we were visiting a smaller town,  it meant that kitchens in most places were closed. I suggested going to one of the local kebab restaurants in the area since there were two of those within walking distance from where we were and they stayed open late.

“We don’t do kebabs,” said Lukasz, “because we don’t want Muslims in Poland.” I kind of stared at him in disbelief but reluctantly kept my New York attitude in check. Instead, I just retorted that not all Turkish people are Muslims, but he seemed uninterested in continuing the conversation.

I was aware that Dorota had supported the right-wing PiS party in the last election, and I am guessing that she pulled him into her conservative politics. After an awkward moment of silence in which I took a big sip from my glass of vodka, Renata abruptly changed the subject.  We then reverted to small talk and later we drove to another restaurant that we had visited in previous trips. Since my wife and I had already had dinner, we just enjoyed couple of drinks while they ate.

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photo by Dominik Werner

I didn’t talk about it any further during our trip, but a few days after we returned to New York I had a brief conversation with my Dorota about the issue. When I asked her about how awkward I felt that day, she replied, “My opinion is the same. I don’t like Muslims in Europe, they should be in their country with their own culture.” When I asked what she meant about that, she said, “I like Muslims and my husband does too but when they are in their own countries.”

I countered that Muslims have been in Europe for centuries, and pointed out that Turkey is a secular country with Muslim majority that happens to be part of Europe (and part of the European council since 1949), she replied that “Turkey is not really part of Europe.”

The conversation ended there, and got me thinking about the conservative nationalist wave that has pretty much taken over the conversation in both sides of the Atlantic, especially after the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency.

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photo by Dominik Werner

As I was reflecting about this whole conversation, I learned about a one night only presentation of “Intro,” a theatre/dance production by Gdansk-based Dada von Bzdülöw Theater that took place at New York’s Bohemian National Hall on October 1 as part of a larger program entitled “Rehearsal for Truth,” a festival showcasing (as stated in the press release) “topical and thought-provoking Central European productions” that also showcased plays from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

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photo by Dominik Werner

The show focuses on four central characters that represents different ethnicities living in present-day Poland: one Polish-born Jew that returns to the homeland after a long period of exile, a Croatian-born immigrant who “received a transfusion of Polish blood, “a Chechen seemingly uncomfortable in his own skin and finally a Middle-Eastern woman who expresses her undying love to her adopted home. All of the characters have great conflict and this is expressed in their dance, which is backed by pre-recorded live Polish punk rock band Nagrobki.

The dance moves, which sometimes happen in total silence or with old Polish folk songs (played from cellphones placed onto microphones) depict the anguish that all these different groups live with: at one point, the Chechen (Piotr Stanek) and the Jew (group co-founder Leszek Bzdyl) mimic working out together and flexing their muscles in a duo dance in which they seem to be searching for something unattainable.

All the dance routines are inspired by different forms of dance: at one point there is a lot of modern jumping jazz-influenced movements, but during another movement the two women in the group (Katarzyna Chimielewska and Katarzyna Ustowska) do a classical ballet-inspired dance.

In between numbers, each character reveals him or herself in short speeches: The Croatian immigrant sings the beauties of Poland and spouts nationalist rhetoric; the Jew, long away from his birthplace, shows conflict about coming back home following the end of Communism. The Chechen vows to blow himself up for Poland, there is a surprise twist when one of the female dancers (Ustowska), who spent most of the play scantily dressed in a barely there top and skirt, reveals herself to be Middle Eastern while being forcibly dressed and put into a hijab. Towards the end of the piece, she reappears in a burka – in Polish flag colors.

“INTRO was created in response to the growing acceptance of extreme national, nationalist and xenophobic declarations in the Polish public debate,” said Bzdyl in an interview released by the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, which co-sponsored the event. “in 2015, somehow in a futuristic way, we presented a monoculture psychosis that will have to be confronted by potential immigrants trying to settle in Poland.”

“When we were creating INTRO, the refugee problem wasn’t yet so blown up by the politicians of the extreme right,” continued Bzdyl in the interview. “By introducing the characters of a Jew, a Croatian nationalist, and Arab woman and a Chechen to the show, we thought of mocking the character of the Pole. The Pole is the one who happens to feel like the messiah of Europe, a Pole gazing at his or her national navel, and reaming of the purity of the Polish blood, and of shedding that blood on the altar of national church.”

The piece – which lasted about 90 minutes – was quite moving and even comic at certain times as it exposed the tragedy of these four different characters and their struggles to assimilate and be accepted in Poland.

During a brief Q&A with the group after the show, Bzdyl mentioned the story of naturalized Cuban-born volleyball player Wilfredo Leon – one of the world’s best  – who expressed desire to play for the Polish national team in spite of resistance from nationalists who cannot accept the idea of a black man on the team.

“He had to try so hard to show that he was more in love with Poland than Poles themselves,” he commented. “It’s like if you are an immigrant you have to become even more Polish than those born in the country.”

I was briefly given the floor and told the group about the kebab story, and  Bzdyl responded that the situation is very conflicted. “Many of these nationalist protesters go on rallies and then go to kebab restaurants because they’re not only everywhere but also the food is cheap and tasty,” he said. “Later on, they go out and complain about how Polish culture is being hurt by them –it just makes no sense.”