LAMC Showcase at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Girl Ultra

LAMC Showcase at BRIC

Celebrate Brooklyn

Mala Rodriguez, Ana Tijoux & Girl Ultra

July 13, 2018

by Ernest Barteldes

On the Celebrate Brooklyn night of the 2018 edition of the Latin Alternative Music Conference, the audience was presented with three very different female voices with very distinctive styles that gave us a glimpse of what is going on in the Latin music scene.

Mexican R&B singer Girl Ultra (Mariana de Miguel) opened the proceedings backed by a simple band that featured keyboards, bass and drums, and she sang mostly original material. Early on the set, there were some technical problems with the keyboards, and instead of interrupting the set, she just began to improvise with the bassist and the drummer for about five minutes, creating music on the spot to the delight of the crowd, who got the chance to see the artist in an unfiltered format, just being creative with whatever she had in her mind at the moment.

Girl Ultra’s music is clearly inspired by contemporary R&B with a retro feel – she clearly draws from the likes of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston but does not have their vocal power. She does, however, have tons of creativity with her vocals, and uses her limitations to her advantage. I believe what we heard was a diamond in the rough – she has great potential as an R&B singer, and I’m hoping to hear her more down the road.

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Ana Tijoux

She was followed by Chile’s Ana Tijoux, who has evolved incredibly from the first time I saw her at an earlier showcase at Central Park Summerstage. She started out with a Spanish-language song written in the 1970s that she said was “relevant to our times,” and was very vocal against the current U.S. administration. During the set she alternated between her earlier rap hits (which included her signature hit “1977”) and more melodic material. At one point, she brought in a violin trio for a tango-inflected tune called “Asaltemos a Un Banco” (“Let’s Rob a Bank”) which was followed by a “Somos Sur,” socially conscious number which she described (in Spanish) that “is about what Latin America is – it’s not a postcard, it’s about where we live. Our culture comes from the streets – to be Latin is all about the places.” Another tune talked about how the rich put the poor down by denying them access to education and dignity, inviting the listener to “join the fight” against racism and blind capitalism.

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Mala Rodriguez

Closing the evening was Spain’s Mala Rodriguez, who came accompanied by a DJ and two female dancers in very skimpy white outfits, delivering a set of dance-inspired music that seemed a bit out of step with the more acoustic nature of the previous sets, but audiences seemed to dig it – like in every LAMC night, it was an opportunity to hear diverse voices and get a feel for the direction of pop, rock and other genres within the umbrella of Latin Music.

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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.

 

Live Review: Los Lobos at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, June 10, 2018

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Los Lobos at The Prospect Park Bandshell

Los Lobos 

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn 

Brooklyn, NY 

June 10, 2018 

By Ernest Barteldes 

Rain seems to follow legendary Los Angeles band Los Lobos whenever they play an outdoor venue in New York – at least that seems to be true every time I happen to hear them. That was true when I first reported on their appearance at Summerstage a decade ago, and the tradition seemed to repeat itself as they appeared at The Prospect Park Bandshell.  

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The sextet came on with their usual energy playing a set that included a selection of hits and covers – one classic that was dedicated to the “youngsters” in the audience was “Come On Let’s Go,” their 1987 cover of the Richie Valens tune featured on the movie “La Bamba” with an extended guitar solo and many tunes they seemed to pick out of a personal list. “We are still figuring out the show,” said co-lead singer David Hidalgo halfway through the set during a pause in which the group seemed to disagree on what to play next.  

The band continued with a medley that included the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” that merged into an up-tempo take on “Crossroad Blues” played close to the classic 1966 arrangement popularized by Cream with extended guitar solos showcasing the dexterity of Hidalgo and co-lead guitarist Cesar Rojas.  

Halfway through the set the ensemble switched to the Mexican rancheras that popularized the band in their early years, including a cover of Vicente Fernandez’s “Volver,” with Hidalgo on accordion. They then went back to more electric blues-based material, including a fast-paced number that featured drummer Enrique Gonzales. 

The band left the stage and returned after a few minutes with a punk-rock inspired number “because we are in New York” and ended the set with “La Bamba,” the traditional Mexican song adapted by Ritchie Valens in 1959 and later made a global hit by Los Lobos two decades later – it has become a mandatory tune during their sets since then. 

The only sour note I could say about their set it the omission of “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” their Oscar-nominated tune from the soundtrack from 1992’s Mambo Kings – it is a beautiful tune that has pretty much been ignored since its release and deserves to be revisited in a live format.  

Los Lobos keep the energy high, and their fans are die-hards: the rain kept falling but no one was interested in leaving until the last chord of “La Bamba” was played, and the ensemble seemed to feed from that, extending tunes and improvising a lot throughout the set.  

Free Concerts: What to Hear in June

by Ernest Barteldes 

 

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Gregory Porter

As I have written before, the summer months are my favorite time of year – not only because we have the nice weather and the opportunity to grill or go to beach trips and also get to wear flip-flops to the supermarket (at least I do), it is also the time for the countless outdoor concerts that take place all over town that are for every taste. 

Ever since I moved to New York – eighteen years ago this year – I have been attending these shows and have lost count of how many I have seen. The other day Renata and I were going through old photos that I covered at Summerstage in those early years and I was shocked at how many prints I had (those were the days before going digital) and how many shows I’d pretty much forgotten about – something that happens when you attend more than 50 concerts a year – most during the summer season.  

This year’s season at Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage and other venues across New York City have incredible lineups, which I will write about over the next few posts, either previewing or reviewing for this blog or other pages.  

On this post I will highlight some of our picks for the month of June – but bear in mind I will only highlight the shows that are free of charge, so if you don’t see say, The Decemberists (June 13, Celebrate Brooklyn) on this list it’s because it’s a benefit event and you have to pay more than the suggested donation asked for at the door.  

If you want more information, check out the hyperlinks, which direct to the actual events’ pages.  

The month begins with jazz vocalist Gregory Porter (June 2nd, Central Park), who makes his second appearance at the event (he also made an appearance at Celebrate Brooklyn in during the 2016 season). his deep baritone gets your attention at once, as I discovered when I first heard of him back in the day when Starbucks gave tunes out for free every week. I heard him at Summerstage in 2015 and was fascinated at his command of the stage and am eager to hear his music again in a live format. 

 

We then head to Prospect Park Bandshell for their opening night on June 6th, when rapper, actor, activist and Oscar Winner Common gets the party started for Celebrate Brooklyn. Little needs to be said about him – he has been a mainstay in the hip-hop scene since the 90s, but more recently he has reached mainstream audiences – never mind the song “Glory,” which earned him an Oscar AND a Golden Globe alongside John Legend.  

 

David Bowie left us too soon back in 2016 (what a shitty year that was for music, by the way) but left us one last gift: his much appreciated album Blackstar, released a few days after his passing. In tribute to the great musician and actor, an orchestra led by Evan Zyporin featuring cellist Maya Beyser will play the album in its entirety (June 9th, Central Park) in a show entitled Bowie Symphonic – the evening will also feature The Donny McCaslin group, who played with Bowie on that final album.  

 

One of the most memorable shows I attended at Summerstage was back in 2008 (has it been that long?) when Los Lobos played alongside Los Lonely Boys. It was a soggy night in which the rain did not relent – everyone got absolutely soaked but no one left until the last song was played. They have a high-energy set that include their most danceable hits that had everyone engaged to the very end – and yes, they included their 80s cover of La Bamba, from the movie of the same name. They return to New York for what promises to be a lovely afternoon in Brooklyn (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 10). 

I first saw Rhiannon Giddens solo work at Celebrate Brooklyn in 2015 – before that, I had seen her with her band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, at a showcase at GlobalFest (don’t ask when, I can’t remember). It was a lovely show that featured roots Americana and folk music coupled with some historical themes. It should be another interesting evening for sure (Central Park, June 16)   

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Mariza

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written about Mozambique-born fado singer Mariza over the years – one of the few artists I wrote about for a European magazine. But to call her simply a fadista is unfair – on her latest works, she has incorporated elements of jazz, pop and other rhythms but without losing touch with her roots. And her chosen genre is best heard in an outdoor format (just check out her Concerto Em Lisboa DVD) instead in theaters. She is a sensational, emotional performer and this is one performance you should not miss. (Central Park, June 23) 

 

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/201866719″>Mariza – Concerto em Lisboa</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user62259790″>eduardo carrasco pontes</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p> 

Closing our picks for June is Branford Marsalis, one fifth of the New Orleans’ “Royal Family of Jazz,” who will be playing two sets with his longtime quartet, bookending Roger Guenveur Smith’s one man show, Frederick Douglass Now. This is another show you shouldn’t miss (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 29) 

Music Preview: GlobalFest 2018

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Mariachi Flor de Toloache

By Ernest Barteldes

Although the weather might be less than inviting in New York in January with record cold temperatures, snow and sleet, it is also the month when various important cultural events take place – one of them being the World Music smorgasbord known as GlobalFest, which this year takes place at B.B. King’s Blues Club and its adjacent bar Lucille’s Grill and Liberty Theater across the street.

For those who have never been to the event, GlobalFest is a six-hour long event that brings together several artists from around the globe who showcase their music to an audience made up of music journalists, label scouts and curious fans willing to know “what’s next” in the scene.

Few of the artists on the list are necessarily household names Stateside – in fact, I had only heard about one of them, New York-based Mariachi Flor de Toloache, who I heard at Celebrate Brooklyn as co-headliners with LAMC in 2013 and as special guests with Mexican-American singer Lila Downs in 2016.

 

That, however, is the entire point of the festival – to introduce these musicians to U.S. audiences and specially bookers in search of acts to perform in their own festivals and venues. Over the years, I recall hearing then lesser known artists such as Lenine (then already a star in his native Brazil), Cambodian retro pop outfit Dengue Fever, Cape Verdean singer Sara Tavares and yes, a then up-and-coming Lila Downs, who graced the stage (then at Webster Hall) back in 2007.

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La Dame Blanche

Sure, there were many others who came and went without making much noise in spite of good performances, but this is a golden opportunity not only for artists to be discovered but also for many of us music fans to get to know artists that we would not otherwise be exposed to, especially when many of us fail to diversify our listening habits more and more as we stream music that we are comfortable with.

GlobalFest takes place at BB King’s Blues Club and Liberty Theater. For more information, visit http://globalfest.org.  Click here for info on the lineup, and tickets can be had here

Monika Brodka: My 2017 Polish Music Discovery

By Ernest Barteldes

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Brodka (publicity)

Shortly before my last trip to Poland last September (where I attended a wedding and spent a few days exploring Chelm, I had a chat with one of my students and told her how much I admired the work of singers like Anna Maria Jopek and Ania Dąbrowska, and she recommended I check out Monika Brodka, who she described as “really innovative.”

I looked her up and learned that like Dąbrowska, she was an alumna of the popular “Idol” franchise, having won the competition during the 2004 season. She was quickly signed by Sony/BMG and made two very pop-friendly  discs (Album and Moje Piosenki, released in 2004 and 2006) under the production of Bogdan Kondracki (who also produced Dąbrowska’s first three albums).

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“Album” and “Moje Piosenki”

I found both albums at Chelm’s Empik in a two-in-one package labeled “Made in Poland,” apparently part of a series meant to promote the country’s pop-rock artists. Among my favorite tracks from those are a mellow cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Let Me Make It through the Night” (from “Album) and “Glock” (from “Moje Piosenki”), which showcase her vocal potential and also her ability to make a song her own.

Although very enjoyable, neither album stands out – possibly because of Kondracki’s very mainstream sounding production that made them sound almost undistinguishable from Dąbrowska’s first two discs or anything else he touched during that era. Brodka’s albums were nevertheless well received and are still on regular rotation on Polish radio stations like RMF and Eska.

Brodka took a considerable break from making studio recordings and re-emerged in 2010 with Granda, (“Brawl”), an 11-song masterpiece which is incredibly different from anything she’d done before, with nods to electronica and jazz without losing touch with a more pop-rock feel. It is quite adventurous and goes into various directions. The title track is a punk-ish rocker with a pounding bass and some extraneous background sounds, while “Saute” seems to revisit the psychedelic era without sounding dated.

In between albums she released the EP LAX” (which is simply a reference to Los Angeles, where the tracks were recorded), which contained “Varsovie,” a haunting English-language ode to her adopted hometown.

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Clashes

2016’s “Clashes” took things to an even more experimental direction – since she is now signed to an independent label, she has more freedom to do what she wants without having to compromise to whatever the suits might want her to do.  I believe that she is aware of the shock value of the music and of course her looks – like performing with a shaved head.

“Clashes” is not easy listening – there are clear influences from Bjὄrk, the post-punk sounds of Patti Smith and others I have not been able to identify – it’s a disc that has to grow on you after repeated hearings.

Check out “Clashes” here

 

My Polish Music Loot: Anna Maria Jopek, Monika Brodka and… The Beatles

By Ernest Barteldes

 

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Cover art for Brodka’s “Clashes”

Whenever we travel abroad, I always try to bring home some of the country’s local music, and I make a point of visiting local music stores and pick out some interesting albums not easily found in the US market or on download – so on our fourth trip to Poland (for a wedding – more on the travel blog) I made a stop at Chelm’s Empik  and picked out a few albums.

The quantity was not as high as in previous trips since we were in the country for just a few days and there were only a few titles I was thinking about – but there were a few discoveries that I am glad to have found just by browsing through the store.

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Cover art for Niebo by Anna Maria Jopek

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Polish World Music singer Anna Maria Jopek, and that I have been slowly purchasing her full collection – in the last a few months I found many of her albums on Walmart.com (don’t ask me why they carry imported albums, but they do) but one that eluded me was Niebo (Universal, 2006), her tenth release in which she continued to branch out into different musical styles, moving away from her previous pop and jazz-inflected albums and into a more diverse sound.

On that online order I also included a DVD copy of the 1981 film “Blind Chance” (Pzypadek), whose plot shows the consequences of the main character making a train or not. According to critics, the film inspired both Sliding Doors (1998) and Run, Lola, Run (1998) in which separate scenarios influences the outcomes of one’s reality.

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Brodka’s Moje Piosenki cover art

A few days before the trip, one of my students at ASA told me about a young singer called Monika Brodka, a contestant – like Ania Dąbrowska before her – of her country’s version of Pop Idol.  I heard some of her clips on Youtube and decided to check out her albums once I got to Poland. On my first visit I picked up a 2-CD set of her two first albums, “Album,” and “Moj Piosenki” (both on Sony Music) – they’re both well-crafted pop albums, but since they were produced following her Idol win, they sound very similar to Dąbrowska’s first discs – after all,  they had the same producer (Bogdan Kondracki) and likely some of the same musicians.

 

What really got my attention was Clashes (2017), her fourth release – no longer constrained by big corporate labels but now with the independent PIAS Recordings, the album is incredibly personal and experimental with no songs in Polish – the music has a unique texture, and she explores the music in a fearless manner that embraces World, jazz and pop tendencies.

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My last music purchase there had zero to do with Polish music – it was actually the 2-disc 50th Anniversary edition of The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I just decided to buy it there because the price was considerably lower than what I could find in the US. It was definitely worth it since I saved about $10 and this album has been on my list for a while – and upon hearing the new mix I was immediately blown away by the new mix, which enhances Ringo’s drumming and also has a more centered sound more similar to its original mono mix.

While I have ripped all the music to my iPhone, I haven’t had the chance to fully appreciate them in the little time I have had since purchasing them – but that time will eventually come – not soon enough.