Monday, September 16, 2019

Ubuhuha

Ubuhuha, Rundi Women
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
 From the liner notes by Michel Vuylsteke: "The ubuhuha (literally 'to blow') which were formerly performed by by women during wakes, have practically disappeared today." This was written in 1967 when Vuylsteke recorded these two Rundi women in Burundi. The women use their hands as an instrument, like a trumpet, "The resultant sounds vary in pitch, timbre and volume according to the position of her hands and the tension of her lips." From the LP Burundi: Musique Traditionelles on Ocora. 
Talking with my friend Jade before the Cat Power concert last Friday he mused that most of the musicians I painted would be unknown to her. I told him that I wouldn't be surprised if Cat Power would be much more familiar to these ethnomusicological recordings than one would expect. During the concert Cat Power used her hands to alter her singing voice on several occasions very much like the Rundi women, most poignantly during a cover of Bob Dylan's Hard Times in New York City (perhaps to mimic Dylan's nasal voice). One of my favorite tunes she performed that Friday was Robbin Hood from her latest Wanderer. The following drawing done during the concert then becomes the official illustration for the song in the Top 100.
Cat Power
12 x 9 inches, pencil on paper, 2019


Monday, September 9, 2019

Long-Song

Ganbaararyn Khongorzul
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
The River Herlen featured on a cd tucked into the excellent book Where Rivers and Mountains Sing: Sound, Musica and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond by Theodore Levin with Valentina Süzükei (Indiana University Press, 2006.) Unlike the other tracks on the cd Xongorzul, the singer of The River Herlen, is not photographed or discussed as an individual but functions as a sound example of the Mongolian 'long-song' tradition. The song is one the beyonds in "Beyond Tuva." The long in long-song clearly doesn't reference duration as the song only lasts a little over two minutes but rather the extended syllables in the text. "A four-minute song may only consist of ten words." [Wikipedia]  The Xongorzul on the disc is likely Ganbaararyn Khongorzul born September 12, 1974 in Mongolia. Ganbaararyn Khongorzul performs with Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble and performed at the opening ceremony at the 2002 World Cup.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Wake in Mindanao

 Manobo-Dulangan (Bagobo) mourners
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
Two mourners from the Manobo-Dulangan tribe sing Kanta para sa patay (Song for the dead) recorded by Jenny de Vera in Mindanao, Philippines on the occassion of a wake for her departed father, Benjamin de Vera (1946-2007). Two mourners from the Manobo-Dulangan tribe sing Kanta para sa patay (Song for the dead) recorded by Jenny de Vera in Mindanao, Philippines on the occasion of a wake for her departed father, Benjamin de Vera (1946-2007). The names of the performers are not provided, they my be professional mourners hired by Jenny de Vera, but they shed real tears in the video uplaoded on YouTube. The image is based on a screenshot of the video. Benjamin de Vera was the leader of the Philippines Communist Party (CPP-NPA).

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Fiona Apple
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
#100 in the top 100, #1 in the last top 10 (of 74) for the year, Every Single Night—the more you listen to it, the more of an anthem it becomes—brings Fiona Apple back into the list. The singer-songwriter is steadily becoming a mainstay in my music appreciation endeavor. Thus it's time for a short biography (Wikipedia reference): Fiona Apple was born September 13, 1977, in Manhattan, classically trained on piano she started wrtng songs at age eight and released her first of four albums at seventeen. Every Single Night comes from her fourth and last The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do of 2012.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Nothing Really Matters

Cat Power
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2014
"When I see your face in the crowd/With a look of obsession" are the opening lines to Cat Power's Nothing Really Matters from 2018s Wanderer. In ten days she will be performing at the Ritz in Tampa, close enough for me to go. It'll be the fifth time I see her live beating Townes van Zandt and (Dutch band) The Fatal Flowers for most concerts visited. It's the sixth painting this year of her and for sure I will draw from life when I see her in Tampa. The backgrounds now have shifted from golden spry paint botanical designs to abstractions that were done on a golden background about a year ago. These abstractions (see The Golden Paintings) were always meant to be painted over with portraits.

Loes

Loesje Hamel
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
Last year I painted both Krzysztof Penderecki and Don Cherry, the two musicians responsible for Actions: Humus, the Exploring Life Force, a work for Free Jazz Orchestra. For the repeat of the work in this year's 100 I looked for someone else to paint and I settled for the vocalist featured on the track who was listed as Loes Macgillycutty. Loes Macgillycutty, it turns out, is Loesje Hamel, a compatriot from the Netherlands, who was a model in the 1950s and died at the age of 35 of cancer. I had never heard of her before but she was connected to score of well known Dutchmen. She was the lover of the famous writer Jan Cremer and (Top 100 alumni) musician Wally Tax. She also collaborated with musicians Ramses Shaffy and Willem Breuker. Breuker's connection landed her in the New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra led by Don Cherry whilst in Europe. A number of Dutch musicians contribute to the composition by the composer Penderecki, besides Hamel and Breuker, Alfred Mangelsdorff, Fred van Hove and Han Bennink can be heard, other famous European jazz musicians on the recording include Peter Brötzmann and Terje Rypdal. There were various images of Loes Hamel available to paint from and I settled on one which sees her smiling. Bad choice; while it's nice to have the person portrayed in a painting look friendly and smile, the all-out bare-your-teeth-smile is another thing altogether, it belongs to the medium of photography, which is instantaneous compared to the delay of painting. A broad smile in a painting eventually becomes an awkward grin. I spend way too many hours to transform the grin and portray someone friendly and cute. I barely succeeded.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Ululation

Kerala: Kurava performance
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
From Wikipedia: "from Latin ulolo,  is a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound resembling a howl with a trilling quality. It is produced by emitting a high pitched loud voice accompanied with a rapid back and forth movement of the tongue and the uvula." Ululation is an example of onomatopoeia (another beautiful word) "the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named." Sound recordings of ululation are hard to come by, most YouTube clips last for about seven seconds, I haven't heard a recording (yet) on any field recording collection. Yet, the tradition has to be included in the Origins of Music discussion. An example from Kerala (south India) on YouTube that lasts no less than 25 seconds entered the Top 100. For a second time recently I have painted an image of a performer whom I don't have a name for. For a second time too, I am not a 100% sure if I painted a man or a woman. The video on YouTube shows a close-up of one of the performers heard. I assume the image is of a woman as the tradition is usually performed by women. Ululation is referenced in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs (that's as far back as references go.) Ululations are performed on ceremonial occasions both happy and sad :(. Ululation in the Malayalam language of Southern India is called Kurava.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Aboriginal Day 2010 at The Forks in Winnipeg

Tumivut: The Competition Song
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
Depicted above is one of the two performers of Tumivut: The Competition Song at the 2010 Aboriginal Day in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It's from a video found on YouTube shot from the audience and is a persistent feature in the Top 100. The video has over 1,000,000 views, thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. I browsed through all those comments just to find out the identity of the two performers. I have not been able to identify them yet. It is the third time I painted from a screenshot of the video. This time it's ten seconds into the 1:25 video and they haven't started yet. The woman on the left fram an audience perspective, is introducing The Competition Song while the one on the right smiles. The Canadian Inuits don't consider their 'katajjait' tradition music as it is merely a game. Ethnomusicolists and myself, we disagree.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Sibérie

Irina Khistoforovna Kolegova
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019

Slava Egorovič Kemlil
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
The paintings here represent two of nine recordings from Siberia in the list of 100. Seven of these were recorded by Henri Lecomte, including the two musicians here. Irina Kolegova (b. 1935) is a Koryak woman from Kamchatka, the easternmost peninsula of Russia. Slava Kemlil (b. 1963) is a Chukchi shaman from Kolyma, a bit northwest from Kamchatka. Both recordings by Lecomte appear in a series of cds on Musique du Monde dedicated to the music of Siberia. Kolegova is found on Sibérie 4, Kamtchatka: dance drums from the Siberian Far East and Kemlil on Sibérie 3, Kolyma: Songs of nature and animals. Kemlil's songs consist of imitations of animals, throat singing, and the 'jajar' (a big shaman's frame drum.) The tundra wakes up in the spring is the title given to the recording that made my list. Kolegova's song, a duet with Anna Kolegova, is called A song about ducks in a style that is reminiscent of the pic-eine'rkin tradition of the Chukchi.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Music of Indigenous Peoples in South America

Ye'kuana (Makiritare) Indian, Venezuela
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
 
Mataco (Michí) Indian, Argentina
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019

The last several top 100 years have been framed by existential questioning. Why do I like what I like? Is one music better than another? Questions like these are why the Top 100 exists, they're integral to a system of ranking and filing. Last year's Top 100 was positioned around one central issue: The origins of music. Where does it come from? What, if any, is its function? The search for the origin really started when, in the 1980s, I discovered 1930s original blues songs that were popularly covered by some of my favorite bands then like Cream and Led Zeppelin. This was the onset of the Top 100 project. (I talk more about this during an interview on WGCU, Three Song Stories.)

The quest for the origins of music, subject of a series of musings on this site, has lead me to listen to, and read about, recordings from the field of ethnomusicology. I have been seeking out recordings and information on the music of those cultures that have lived in relative isolation from the influence of civilizations, the industrial world. More half of the 100 songs in the 2018/2019 list belong to this category. Naturally  I have become sympathetic to the plight and rights of such cultures. I first started to have an interest (in the political issue) in the late 1990s. This was a relatively positive time in which many governments allotted land and rights to the indigenous people living within their borders. Currently, however, the political trend is to revert back to colonial times.

The two paintings shown here are sort of a pair even though the origin of the two individuals are thousands of miles apart. The first one a Ye'kuana woman from Venezuela, below a Mataco Indian from Northern Argentina. Both images are based on anthropological images from the late nineteenth century. The Ye'kuana woman illustrates Yucca Fertility Song recorded by Walter Coppens and found on the album Anthology of Central & South American Indian Music (Folkways, 1975.) The song is a chant by women to stop evil spirits from affecting the yucca plant (the tree of life) recited during planting and harvesting. [W. Coppens] The Mataco Indian represents a mataco instrumental piece on a stringed instrument and is played by a shaman. (Argentina, The Indians of the Gran Chaco, Lyrichord, 1977.)

Many indigenous peoples, some still uncontacted, live in South American continent. The struggle of the South American Indians, as in the North, is well documented throughout this century and the last. The Selk'nam people, wiped out in a genocide courtesy of economic progress (gold was found on their territory,) I wrote about last year, is just one example of the devastating history of the fate of indigenous peoples after contact. While many protective laws are in place, the onslaught on territories held by indigenous peoples continues and is getting worse. Jair Bolsonaro, the latest Brazilian president, is emblemtic of these developments. He believes that indigenous people should be integrated and that way too much land is appropriated to them. He's firing scientists opposing his "manifest destiny" as Trump does to those defending Alaskan tribal societies. And the ecology again is victim.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Jazz in the Top 100 2018/2019

Rahsaan Roland Kirk
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019

John Coltrane
14 x 11 inches, oil on canvas, 2019
There's jazz in the Top 100 2018/2019. Perhaps not quite as many as is usual but it's better than how the blues fared; there are none belonging to the latter category. (It's a first, that there's no blues. I like blues a lot, especially prewar blues, but perhaps it becomes harder to discover new old gems. There were only so many recordings made, I may have heard a good portion of it. Nevertheless I'm going to make sure blues will be back next year.) There's the same Don Cherry/Krzysztof Penderecki piece featured the previous year, there's a Sun Ra All Starts recording, and also a place for the two regulars in the Top 100: John Coltrane and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The Coltrane recording is the same as it has been the last two decades: that recording of My Favorite Things that is my favorite track throughout the history of the Top 100. To read about this tune more you can follow this link. The Kirk recording, however, is one that was not previously featured: Theme for the Eulipians. I first heard the tune as an instrumental through a performance together with Gil Evans. A marvelous performance late in Kirk's life. He had already suffered a stroke and could only play with one hand. Still a virtuoso. The song, as it is a song, appears on The Return of the 5000 Lb. Man and is written by Kirk together with Betty Neals, who wrote the lyrics. Neals is also heard on the recording reciting these lyrics and Maeretha Stewart sings. The musicians, besides Kirk: Howard Johnson, Romeo Penque, Hilton Ruiz, Buster Williams, Charlie Persip, and Joe Habao Texidor, The album was recorded in 1976 (the same year as the Gil Evans concert) and released by Warner Brothers.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Nivkh of Sakhalin Island

Antonia Vasil'evna Skalygina?
14 x 11 inches, oil and metallic on canvas, 2019
The source of the above painting is a photograph by Henri Lecomte used as the cover for the cd Nivkh, Ujl'ta, Siberie 6, Sakhaline: Musique vocale et instrumentale (Buda Records, Musique du Monde, 1996.) I do not have the cd and therefore I can't say for sure if the person depicted is indeed Antonia Skalygina or not but I like to believe it is. It makes sense. The track in the list of 100 is called Alterateur de voix Kal'ni, voice modifier. The instrument shown could indeed be that modifier but perhaps it is a jew's harp (in which case the performer would be either Ol'ga Anatol'evna Njavan or Ekatarina Cirik.) When I selected the cover image to paint from I wasn't even sure if I was going to paint a man or a woman. An image search on Sakhalin traditional dress confirmed that the image is of a woman,  the jewelry confirmed my assumption furthermore. The painting is done on top of an earlier work from a series of abstractions that were initially intended to be used for portraiture but started a life of their own. It's the first one from about fifteen such works that is appropriated for the Top 100.