Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Watutsi

Watutsi Woman (Songs of the Watutsi cover)
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
The Watutsi (or Tutsi) belong to an ethnic group (shared by the Hutus) who live predominantly in Rwanda and neighboring Burundi. The Tutsi, among the tallest people on earth (average height 5'9") don't live too far from the forests where pygmies live (rather Central African Foragers, a rather sort people at an average of less than 4'11".) The text accompanying the previous painting of a Watutsi woman (unfortunately labeled as Watusi Girl) dealt with (the unfortunate history of) exoticism. Then, the woman, represented a young woman's voice from Burundi. The voice belonged to a Rundi not Tutsi singer. That painting, done from a postcard, became again a postcard as it was selected by me to represent the Top 100 2015. Now, for this year's Top 100, the Tutsi woman I painted actually represents a Tutsi singer. The image moreover, is taken from the cover of the record the song appears on. That song, Uwejeje Imana, is sung by women and girls from the royal court at Shyogwe. Before writing these pages I usually do a bit of (superficial) research as not to blunder on remembered information. The image used by Wikipedia on their Tutsi page features an image that also is found on Songs of the Watutsi (Ethnic Folkways, 1963) and was probably taken by Leo Verwilghen, who recorded the tracks on the album and, I assume, also wrote the texts. I also assume he's from Belgium, as Rwanda was a Belgian colony until 1962.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Te Bow

!Kung San Woman playing a gut pluriarc
14 x 9 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
The te bow is a traditional instrument made a wooden post and played with a gut bow. A recording of it made by Megan Biesele in Botswana in 1972 appears on Instrumental Music of the Kalahari San (Ethnic Folkways, 1982) and is featured in this year's 100. The traditional instruments of the !Kung San people, all heard on the record, are, beside the te bow, the hunting bow, the plurirac (depicted above) and the sitengena (a thumb piano.) Many recordings of the San People have been presented here under different labels: San, Khoisan, and !Kung, all posts comment on the links between them and the earliest people/music.

Saturday, April 6, 2019


11 x 14 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
Narantsogt is the father of Gombojav who I painted earlier (see Father and Son.) Narantsogt was recorded twice before (in 1982 and 1989) but when Theodore Levin did research in Mongolia for his book Where Rivers and Mountains Sing Narantsogt was too old and frail to be able to play. Several videos exist on YouTube that feature Narantsogt. The one for the Top 100 is labeled Mongolian traditional instrument Tsuur. In the video you see Narantsogt ritually prepare for a tsuur performance. The tsuur is a simple three hole flute but difficult to play as it combines the techniques for throat singing (höömeii) and whistling. Narantsogt is quoted by Levin in the aforementioned book: "If I play for a long time, nature tells me what to do. I play for the mountains and the rivers, and the spirit masters take pleasure from this." The tsuur is typically performed alone without any audience (save for the spirit masters,) let alone recording equipment.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Gour Khepa, "madman"

Gour Khepa
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
Sometimes referred to as madman or wild man, Khepa is not a name but a Bengali title more properly translated as "wise man." Gour Kyapa (as Khepa is now spelled) was a storied Baul philosopher and musician. The Bauls are an ethnic Bengali sect of wandering minstrels traveling through Bangladesh and eastern India. Their musical tradition goes back to at least the eighteenth century and was orally transmitted only (until sound recordings and subsequent transcriptions were made.) The Bauls are ascetics, renouncing material belongings and marriage. They subsist on gifts or alms in exchange for (musical) recitals that use only very basic language, including many profanities. Many documentary films have been made about the Baul, including a ninety-minute treatise on Gour Khepa, books written, and songs recorded. The LP Bengale: Chants des "fous" (Chants du Monde, 1990) is an excellent compilation. Tu n'as pu conserver le nectar d'amour by Gour Khepa is the song listed in the top 100 2019/19. Gour Khepa was born in 1947 and died after a traffic accident in 2013.

Friday, March 15, 2019


One from a group of Roro natives, eastern Papua New Guinea
14 x 11 inches, oil on silver ground on canvas, 2019

According to the Roro of Papua New Guinea (and many other peoples) ceremonial songs contain magical power. The particular Kittoro song illustrated here was given to the Roro by a friendly tribe from Rigo. The Roro live 130 miles further east on Yule Island in Eastern Papua New Guinea. The Rigo group can't perform the song anymore as it now belongs to the Roro. Jaap Kunst of the Indische Museum in Amsterdam introduces the song on The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music (Vol. 7: Indonesia) but quotes from Father Dupeyrat who recorded the song in 1951 in Tsiria on Yule Island. Kunst talks at length about magico-religious qualities of indigenous music in a lecture given at The Smithsonian Institute in 1959, but does not comment on the question if the magic is still contained in the recorded version (eight years old at the time and now 68 years later.) Don't get me wrong, I truly love this song but the magic doesn't work for me.

Monday, March 11, 2019

"In Your Face"

Cat Power
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
It took me a little while to warm up to Cat Power's new album Wanderer, but now I consider it one of the (her) best ever. Besides the title track camping out at number one, In Your Face and Robbin Hood have also entered the list for this year. The album is on top of the album count and Cat Power on top of the musician count for the year.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sonny Sharrock

Sonny and Linda Sharrock
14 x 11 inches, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2019
Even though Sonny Sharrock is a fairly well known musician and his music seems right up my alley, I had never heard of him until I picked a random title at Ubuweb's Film & Video. The movie Space Ghost Coast to Coast (1996) is a weird video that originally appeared on the Cartoon Network. The soundtrack was also weird enough for me to research the musician Sonny Sharrock (1940-1994.) Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) appears as a cameo. I bought then a digital copy of Sharrock's first solo album Black Woman of 1969. The music can be described as existing somewhere between Alice Coltrane and Yoko Ono. An old Top 100 alumni Milford Graves is the percussionist and drummer. Sharrock's wife Linda is the singer. Two tracks will appear in the Top 100 this year: Peanut and Portrait of Linda in Three Colors, All Black.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Aluar Horns

Aluar Horns
14 x 9 inches,  acrylic and oil on canvas, 2019

The record Africa: Drums Chants and Instrumental Music introduced me more than thirty years ago to the field of ethnomusicology that became my main focus in collecting music. My favorite track from the record Aluar Horns was the first ever in the field that was listed in a Top 100, this was in the late 1980s. The tune reemerged in a number of top 100s since and on the "continued count list" that has run since 1983 it entered the top 20, between luminaries such as John Coltrane, Igor Stravinsky, and The Velvet Underground. About sixty horn players in the royal court of the Arua in Uganda comprise the cacophony heard in the recording. Each horn is able to play one note and one note only. A photograph I found recently show eight of them, three of which feature in the painting. This painting on a silver ground is the first of six previous illustrations that show the actual musicians.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Mark Hosler @ Bob Rauschenberg

Mark Hosler, charcoal in sketchbook, 12 x 9 inches, 2019
Mark Hosler, signature on adjacent page, 2019
Mark Hosler of Negativland: Another great concert at the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery at FSW State College. Drawing live was difficult because I was in the dark. Of ten sketches I made this is the only one worth showing (here but also to Mr. Hostler, who then signed the drawing on the next page with another drawing.) I've been listening (and reading) Negativland for the last two days.

Les Dani de Nouvelle Guinée

Dani woman with children
14 x 11 inches, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2019
The Dani who live in the western (Indonesian) part of New Guinea are known for their appearances. Men wear penis sheaths that are quite long and pointy. The sheaths look vicious but I assume they function the opposite way as it keeps men from getting an erection and therefore discourages the idea of sexual intercourse. Women, when losing a dear one cut off a digit of one of their fingers, a painful way to mourn but it helps mourning I suppose. The oldest paintings known in the world are those of hand stencils found in Sulawesi, Indonesia and in Spain. Some fingers in these hand stencils have digits missing. Due to the same tradition of mourning? It is well established that many early hands were the hands of women. Were they the first artists? The French publisher NordSud compiled four discs with the music of the Dani. The most surprising tracks are a number of examples of throat singing, adding yet another geographic location this age old tradition is still being practiced.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Out Demons, Out

Barbara Kraus (as Aloise Schinkenmaier)
14 x 9 inches, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2019
Here's an odd one for you. The source image is a still taken from the video Out Demons Out, in which Austrian dancer and performance artist Barbara Kraus acts as the also Austrian medium Aloise Schinkenmaier. In one of the most ridiculous videos I've ever seen Kraus, as Schinkenmaier, meets her old friend Satan, a man in a bear costume played by Martin Leitner. It's not Kraus but Schinkenmaier who is featured in the top 100. I could not positively identify Schinkenmaier herself in any of the many photos associated with the German album Okkulte Stimmen – Mediale Musik: Recordings of Unseen Intelligences, 1907-2007. On the second of that 3CD-set Schinkenmaier is heard as a medium picking up an unknown language while being recorded in 1967. Later the language was identified as a dialect of a little known Polynesian language. Schinkenmaier herself could not possibly have been aware of that language let alone speak it as if it were native to her. The recording clocks a dramatic two minutes in which Schinkenmaier narrates an emotional scene in this Polynesian language. I became interested in this recording in the context of something about memory that travels on a plane usually hidden to us (call it the astral plane,) the key to my hypothesis on the origin of music. In the zine Ach Ja #10: The Origin of Music (2) I wrote a paragraph headed "Dreams." 
Dreams contain images, sounds, and words that must be contained inside one’s being. Curiously the material contained in dreams might consist of features that were never experienced in one's life; places never traveled, languages never learned, sounds never heard, times of yore or future.  Where does this material come from? Archetypes, shared memory, or can the unconscious travel beyond our bodies to different times and different places? It’s known that our DNA contains of up to 3% denisovan, 5% of neanderthal, and a whole lot of early homo sapiens.  Along with DNA there would also be a memory, a trace of consciousness from our early ancestors.  We normally can’t access this information as it is stored deep down in our subconsciousness.  There are however atavisms, and there are still pre-industrialized (illiterate) people whose memories exist on different planes then ours. Oral traditions, counter-intuitively perhaps, can subsist through hundreds, even thousands of years. 

While it's easy to dismiss certain unexplainable phenomena as fake or trickery, I am not convinced that things that aren't easily explained, or don't fit known workings of the physical world, are therefore non existing. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Andaman Islands

Andaman Islands, Port Blair
14 x 9 inches, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2019
In November 2018 John Allen Chau, an American missionary, set foot on the northernmost of the Sentinel Islands. His mission didn't last long as he was speared by the indigenous Sentinelese. The Sentinelese inhabit the least visited of the Andaman Islands that are located in the Bay of Bengal east of India. The latest Indian census counted only thirty-nine inhabitants. The Indian government used satellite imagery to count because visits are prohibited. Chau traveled illegally. Since 1700, as far back as recorded history goes on the Andaman Islands, the Sentinelese have only been in contact with the modern world a handful of times, usually very brief as they either flee into the bushes or kill the visitors. The Indian government has decided to leave them alone. The Onge, who inhabit the largest of the Andaman Islands, are related to the Sentinelese but only rarely are in contact with the Sentinelese. The inhabitants of the Andaman Islands are believed to be members of the first wave of migrants out of Africa of our species some 60,000 years ago. The Sentinelese, moreover, are believed to have been completely isolated from contact since 30,000 BCE when they inhabited the island they're still living at today. Not only visiting is prohibited but also photography is not allowed, even from a great distance. There are only a handful of images of the Sentinelese known, all taken from a distance. Their language is unintelligible. There are no sound recordings whatsoever. The related Onge share their territory with Indian settlements and are also left to their own. I was surprised to find a sound recording made by the Indian Institute of Anthropology in 1960. The recording may be the closest analogy to the music of prehistoric men that exists. The recording was made in Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and features a chorus of boys and girls performing a turtle hunting song.