Saturday, October 24, 2020

Maybe Mental

Batak krijgers met speren Tropen Museum
The title of this post suggests I'd be illustrating a song by a band with that name from Phoenix, Arizona. They're really great, I love that band,  (I'm listening to their LP Music for Dreaming as I write this) but no, they didn't make it into the Top 100 2020. The title above, rather, signifies my own bouts with mental illness. During a random web browsing session (on Reddit, of all places) I came across an image, a portrait, created by a patient of a psychiatric institute. Immediately I could empathize and identify with the maker of this portrait. I thought this portrait was the best I've seen if it comes to current activities within the medium of drawing. Looking at this drawing caused me to self-reflect, to wonder why I was so attracted to this drawing, why this drawing, of all of the hundreds of drawings I've seen in the past weeks, stood out to me as being real. The drawing reminded me of drawings I had done in the past during states of utterly despair, utter drunkenness, or utter whatever, drawings that in retrospect belong to my drawings I cherish most. The drawing made me realize I was one of them too. How I've worked so hard to be considered normal, fitting in into the world of contemporary art, how I rationalized works I've made, how I pretended, over the years, to be a voice of academic endeavors that came to define my identity. But I ignored those aspects that were off in this picture, that didn't fit my manufactured existence, aspects that really make me the person I am. Looking back at some works from my past, I recognize things I was ashamed of, embarressed, but some of these things represented me as I am, no matter how I rejected them. A few days ago, when I wrote about the Sakalava spear thrower, I derided myself for the image I selected to draw. What happened next was that I again selected an image of a spear thrower, again somewhat too exotic, out of context (from a different time) than the music I was representing. There are two sides to one's identity: what you think of what's right, and what you feel. What one feels is really not in accordance to how one perceives themselves. Experience doesn't accord to knowledge very well. You experience the world to be flat but you know for a fact it's round. 

The song, btw, I'm illustrating here is called Ile Ile, performed by Ropaoen Batoebare, recorded by Raden Suwanto in 1950 on the Island of Sumatra. Rapaoen Batoebare belongs to the Batak people. The album the song appeared on is Music from Indonesia on Folkways.

Monday, October 19, 2020


 Kanusiky-Sakalava of Morondova (after Dr. A. Voltzkow)
Photographs from the 1939 Clerisse expedition to Madagascar shows most people wearing regular Western style clothing (introduced by French colonists I presume). The photograph of a Kanusiky-Sakalava tribesman I used was taken in 1901, thirty-eight years before the expedition that yielded Homage to the King featured in the Top 100 2020. While usually I'm very conscientious about this sort of thing I must admit I've fallen for an inappropriate form of exoticism. Not only should I have settled for an image from the Clerisse Expedition, I also managed to search for an image by the wrong tribe. The track Homage to the King is coupled (on the record The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Vol. 2: French Africa) with a recording of the Sakalava people but the former is actually recorded by the Ambilube [sic]. On the other hand Homage to the King references a time from before the French colonization in 1883, when the island was the Kingdom of Madagascar. Today, searching for these ethnic groups (Ambilube and Sakalava and others), the names don't even show up because the people of Madagascar are pretty much homogeneous and referred to as Malagasy. There are different ethnic identities among the Malagasy but there's hardly any tribalism. The ancestry of the Malagasy is curiously enough closer related to the people of Indonesia than to those of the African continent. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Worried Shoes

Daniel Johnston

"I took my lucky break and I broke it in two" is how Daniel Johnston started his 1983 recording Worried Shoes. The line is just one of many unforgettable one-liners in the oeuvre of the late Daniel Johnston. Worried Shoes, the highest of ten of his songs in my all-time list of 500, reappears as a sort of tribute in this year's Top 100. Daniel Johnston died on September 11th 2019, a month into the Top 100 2020 year. I remain a big fan.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Africa Dances

Cover of Africa Dances 
Ethnomusicologist John Storm Roberts (1936-2009) was an important figure in the popularization of African and Latin-American music in Europe and America. Through his record label Original Records world music became widely available. Some of the first world music in my collection are from this label including Africa Dances that I bought about thirty years ago and still occasionally play. The track Smodern was early on a favorite and when playing the record last year it still stood out as a most exciting track. The compilation record (from 1973) featured many future stars of African pop as well as names already established on the continent. The artists listed as performers, however, have a question mark after their name Miss Smodern. There is no information on the group or song to be found on-line and the only information is the brief introduction in the liner notes written by Roberts that identifies the music as Township Jazz. John Storm Roberts (I believe) recorded all music.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Yaqui Deer Dance

Yaqui Deer Dance Performer
The collection called Anthology of Central and South American Indian Music on Folkways [1975] yielded a number of recordings nominated for inclusion of the Top 100 2019. At number 31 a song called Deer Dance was the only one to make it in though. This intriguing recording of Yaqui male singers with rasping sticks and water drums was made by Henrietta Yurchenco in Mexico in 1952. Only much later I checked out the original 1952 album it was included on: Indian Music of Mexico: Seri/Cora/Yaqui/Huichol/Tzotzil. It provided the recording with much more context. Later yet, in preparation to create an illustration for it, I became further acquainted with the Deer Dance ceremony and with the Yaqui. Yurchenco wrote in 1952: "the original Yaqui cultural pattern has largely disappeared with very few either material or spiritual elements remaining." Yet in 2020 there is ample of information to be found online, mostly of the Yaqui people of Arizona in the US. The Yaqui who performed this ceremony in front of Henrietta Yurchenco in 1952 were living along the Yaqui River in the state of Sonora south of the US border in Mexico. The Deer Dance is still widely performed today.


Sunday, October 4, 2020

World: 35M, Nunavut 0

Katajjait singing

Much of the the Top 100 2020 comes from regions barely affected by the global COVID-19 epidemic. More than a month after I painted the previous Inuit entry, the numbers for Nunavut (the Canadian Inuit Province) remain at zero. The katajjait vocal style features two women singing/breathing into each other's mouths so their voices resonate. Needless to say that COVID-19 would easily spread in the process. Nunavut is the location with most recordings in this top 100 followed by the Solomon Islands. I just read in the news today that the Solomon Islands recorded their first case of COVID-19. Maria and I both work in public spaces in a city where the virus is spreading rapidly. I thought it would be wise to get ourselves tested which we did today: the results came back negative. The song illustrated is a Qiarpaa, a variation of the katajjaq genre that really are considered games rather than music. This particular example from the collection Canada: Jeux Vocaux Des Inuit was performed by Issumartarjuak and Watuak and recorded by Roman Pelinski at Eskimo Bay.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Piaroa (2)

Bark Horns of the Piaroa, charcoal on paper, 11x14 inches, 2020


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Chant funebre de femmes

 Hugo Zemp, 14x11 inches, various materials on paper, 2020

Top 100 2020, #23 Chant funebre de femmes, Koleo from Iles Salomon: Musique de Guadalcanal. [Ocora, 1994] Recorded by Hugo Zemp, 1990.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Mathangi and Kala

 Mathangi Arulpragasam (M.I.A.) with her mother Kala Pragasam
11x14 inches, pencil, spray paint, watercolor on paper, 2020
In 2019 M.I.A. received an MBE for her services to music. Prince William was the one who handed it to her during a ceremony which her mother was one of the guests of honor. Her mother had stitched the actual award medal to the ribbon M.I.A. was given. As a refugee she had found work sowing for the royal family and had created similar award ribbons for 33 years. In the photo she took with her mom at the ceremony M.I.A. proudly poses with her mom now wearing the MBE award the had stitched herself. The M.I.A. song in the Top 100 2019 is again Born Free as she performed it live at Letterman's Late Show in 2010. A memorable performance featuring Marin Rev, who in 1977 created the beat heard sampled behind the studio version of Born Free (Maya, 2010) together with Alan Vega. The song is at a solid #2 in my list of counting awarded points kept updated since 1983.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020


Woman preparing the mesh for manioc beer
14x11 inches, watercolor, pencil, spray paint on paper, 2020
I think infanticide is pretty cruel. The whole concept of it seems very alien, but it didn't used to be that way. The practice was actually rather universal and still used among certain cultures that have not been in contact, or are independent from, the industrialized world. It's a debate of ethics I guess. We in the Western civilization would think of infanticide as unethical and the cultures who practice it as barbaric. They themselves think nothing of it. Ethics is a social construct and for most people in the world it is an effect of organized religion. Philosophy has a great deal to say about ethics too, but it is also formed on the same structures our civilization is built on. Philosophers think a lot about ethics,  they think about identity, and how and when a newborn baby becomes a person. They may consider that an infant becomes a person, a human being, at perhaps three years of age. Still philosophy will not condone infanticide. Imagine our cultural norms would shift, perhaps because of the philosophy of personhood, so that we come to think of babies becoming individuals at the age of one. This is when an infant would get "christened," named, assigned a gender, a character of its own, and so forth. The likely result of such a cultural debate would be that the general population could accept an abortion maybe a month or two later in the pregnancy than it is the case now. This, in my opinion, would be a good thing. Let them choose, and we, men, stay out of the debate altogether.

The Shuar are one of the peoples practicing infanticide, at least they did in 1984, when Michael Harner wrote Jivaro: Pepole of the Sacred Waterfalls.[Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984] They would only kill deformed babies though and not, as with some other cultures, do it as a sacred ritual, neither do they have a preference for girls or boys. As I sketched out in May life for a Shuar woman is hell. Who would blame them if they didn't want to bring a new baby girl into the world.
The photograph the above drawing is based on was taken by the same Michael J. Harner who also recorded the Social dance song and produced the record both photo and song are found on: Music of the Jivaro of Ecuador. [Ethnic Folkways, 1972]

Thursday, July 16, 2020


Melakhan Langa, narh flute
11x14 inches, pencil, watercolor, flowers on paper, 2020
The Top 100 2020 series is nicknamed the COVID-19 series. This happened because when I started the series the country was under a lockdown order and people were asked to stay home because of the virus. I thought it was appropriate to make works at our living room table rather than my usual easel paintings done in the studio. To sit down and meticulously draw a picture seemed to capture the spirit of the time for for me. Then I also started to add the COVID-19 stats for the various regions the songs originated in. In that same spirit I felt the need the other day to not only make a meticulously detailed portrait of a musician but also to add flowers to it in a typical low-art-household-watercolor fashion. The wildflowers in our yard give me great joy and before I set out to photograph my drawing I decided to stick some actual flowers to the surface. The result represents for me more than any other the spirit of COVID-19. The drawing will probably look a bit more weathered tomorrow as it does in the photo (not to mention three weeks from now.) It so happened that this drawing was made on the very last blank page remaining in my sketchbook. All 27 works thus far in the Top 100 2020 are still attached to this sketchbook. I have purchased an identical book to continue the series and this full one now I could lay away with some weights on top. I wait a few weeks before I check how the flowers fared during their drying process.  

A bit about the music illustrated: The recording in the top 100 list is Flûte narh avec bourdon vocal and appears on Les voix de monde, une anthologie des expressions vocales published in 1996 by Hugo Zemp. The recording was made by Geneviève Dournon in 1993 in Rajasthan, India. The instrument used is the narh flute, cut from a kane called kar. The performer is Sherha Mahamad who belongs to the Islamic ethnic minority of Sindhi Sipahi. A vocal drone accompanies the way the flute is played. I did not have a picture so I searched for a substitute and learned some things about the flute, the tradition, and the people in the process. And I found a video of a man, Melakhan Langa, playing this flute. A beautiful video. The playing of the narh is yet another tradition in danger of dying out. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Topoke on Video

Topoke Girl Playing Lilolo
14x11 inches, pencil, pen, watercolor on paper, 2020
Below is the step by step video of how this drawing came about. No need to write any information here as it's discussed in the video at length. It's one hour but really cool!