Saturday, December 20, 2014

Suling gdé

Suling gdé player, Bali
16" x 12", oil on canvas
Today's painting has a lot in common with yesterday's. Like yesterday's it's painted on top of a seascape demo. It's a demo gone wrong though. It was fine after five minutes but more paint got smeared onto it, and more, and more, and more. Some of it was scraped off to allow an image to be painted on top. Here again the image does not illustrate the song very well. The song is Chalon Arang performed by a female singer is accompanied by a chorus and drumming. There is no 'suling gdé' (the bamboo flue in the picture) heard on this recording. Chalon Arang is track #22 of the LP The Columbia Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Vol. VII: Indonesia. The gdé player, instead is featured on track #21 Gamelan Gambuh. The data for both recordings are, however, the same. The performers come from the same group of musicians, they were recorded in same year (and probably in the same day), and in the same place. The recordings were made in 1931 for Musée Guimet in Paris, under the supervision of Chokorda Gdé Raka Sukawati, in Bali. As with all the records in the Library series, this volume was collected and edited by Alan Lomax, while the music and texts on this specific volume were edited by Doctor Jaap Kunst, who also recorded most of the music, but not the track currently discussed. The following was written by Mr. Kunst, on the liner notes of the album: "This is an excerpt from a musical play in which the principle character is Rangda, the evil widow, who battles against the good principle. Rangda's song has that pressed, instrumental character typical of Balinese vocal music."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Haya music

Cover of Tanzania Instruments
12" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014
The illustration above is a bit misleading as the song it illustrates  doesn't feature any drumming. A more appropriate source image would have been the photograph taken by Hugh Tracey of a player of the  Bangwe raft-zither of Nyasaland (Malawi) but it was already used for a zither tune by the Hehe people of Tanganyika (Tanzania) in September. The top 100 song the happy drummer boy illustrates is called Mugasha, which was played by Habib bib Seliman and recorded by Hugh Tracey in Kabale, Tanzania, in 1951. Like the Hehe people's recording, this one is also found on the record The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Volume X: British East Africa. Habib bin Seliman belongs to Haya people habituating northwestern Tanzania. I never heard the Tanzania Instruments record but I know it features recordings by the Haya people. The recordings on that record were also made by Hugh Tracey, and, no doubt, the cover photo was also taken by him. 

The painting (but not the photograph) would have been an appropriate illustration too, of a water drum recording that belongs to my favorite African field recordings ever made. The water in the painting is the result of yet another landscape painting demo produced in front of a group of students. In a 6-week landscape painting class, a student had asked "how to paint water?" since I do not know the answer to that question, I figured I would just try.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The geography of the Top 100 2013/14

  1. Canada (2, Leonard Cohen and Inuits)
  2. US: northwest (4, Oregon, Washington)
  3. US: west (1, San Francisco)
  4. US: south (8, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee—the blues)
  5. US: midwest (1, Ohio)
  6. US: New York (12)
  7. US: southeast (5, Cat Power)
  8. Bahamas (1)
  9. Jamaica (2)
  10. Cuba (2)
  11. Ecuador (2)
  12. Brazil (1)
  13. Iceland (1)
  14. Ireland (1)
  15. England (12, London-9, Manchester, Liverpool, and Brighton)
  16. Russia: St. Petersburg (2)
  17. Russia: Moscow (4)
  18. Poland (1)
  19. France (2)
  20. Spain (1)
  21. Italy (1)
  22. Central Europe (2, Hungary and Bulgaria)
  23. Yugoslavia (3, Bosnia and Serbia)
  24. Turkey (1, Kurdistan)
  25. Lebanon (1)
  26. Syria (1)
  27. Iran (2)
  28. Egypt (2)
  29. Morocco (1)
  30. Algeria (1)
  31. D.R. Congo (1)
  32. Burundi (3)
  33. Tanzania (2)
  34. Kenya (2, Swahili)
  35. Botswana (1)
  36. Malawi (1)
  37. India (4)
  38. Thailand (1)
  39. Cambodia (1)
  40. Indonesia (2)
  41. Japan (2)
  42. Tahiti (1)


Cover of Folk and Pop Sounds of Sumatra
12" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014
"I’m starting off 2014 with what I believe is a pretty exceptional rarity. Certainly it’s one of the earliest commercial recordings of regional music from the highlands of Western Sumatra made by the Minangkabau people, known as Urang Minang in the local language. With most of the local recording industry at the time based in Java and Singapore, we are lucky that music of the Minang, a matrilineal, Islamic culture primarily based in the Minangkabau Highlands, was set to shellac."

Such is the opening paragraph of an article on traditional Sumatran music, written by Jonathan Ward for Excavated Shellac at the start of 2014. The article is a contextual analysis of the recording Tandjoeng Sani by the female singer Rapioen. The singer and two musicians that accompany the recording hail from Bukittinggi (formerly known as Fort de Kock). The song was recorded in 1938. Here then, towards the end of 2014, is an illustration for that song. The source image I found clicking through links, starting at the comment section of the Rapioen web-page. The music of the Minang people is a rather appropriate topic at the end of a year in which I was more than casually interested in matriarchy in history. That this recording then too, comes from an Islamic tradition, further informs, and complicates, historical issues I've studied this year. No less than eight titles (and perhaps more) in this year's top 100 are by female Islamic singers. 

Alright then, dear readers, time for a final push. There are just a handful of paintings left to do, to complete the series. In a week or two I'll be posting the list and announcing an exhibition where all hundred paintings will be shown, accompanied by all this year's writings on this stage, as well as the customary seven-hour loop of the prerecorded one hundred songs.

Monotypes (2)

Abdellah el Magana
20" x 15", monotype, 2014
Less than a month after a first monotype workshop I hosted a second, and, in keeping with the custom of 'every-opportunity-a-top-100 illustration', the demo featured an attempt to portray a Moroccan group around Abdellah el Magana. Some technical improvements happened since the first workshop, but this time, after the initial demo, the students didn't allow me to focus thoroughly on a result. The web presence of Abdellah el Magana evolves around the recording Kassidat el Hakka (poem of truth), originally a 45 recorded in Casablanca during the 'golden era' of the Moroccan record industry the 1960s. The song features on an album called Raw 45s from Morocco, collected and compiled by David Murray.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Swami

Swami Dattatreya Rama Rao Parvakitar
12" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014
Track 12 from The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Vol. XII: India is a recording of a Svarāramandalā played by Swāmī D.R. Parvatikar. The Swami was recorded by Alain Danielou in Hyderabad (Deccan). Rama Rao Parvatikar was a prominent Hindu saint and sanyasin (Wikipedia), he was born in 1916 and died in 1990. He would stand on his head every morning for at least fifteen minutes after which he would play his dattatreya veena (a self built folk harp) right side up. Danielou, a professor at the University of Benares recorded Rama Rao Parvatikar on several occasions between 1950 and 1955.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Chewa Girls
8" x 10", oil on canvas, 2014
Manyanda is the "Kulowa first movement of the Muganda dance". It was performed, and recorded, in 1950 in Nyasaland (current day Malawi) by Hugh Tracey. It was performed by a group of young men with malipenga (singing gourds) led by Benson Phiri at Native Authority Masula, in the Lilongwe district. The information comes from the liner notes written by Tracey on the record The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Volume X: Bantu Music from British East Africa that was collected and edited by Alan Lomax. Hugh Tracey provided all the recordings, the photographs, and liner notes. The collection of photographs did not include the Chewa young men of track 17 and I reverted to a simple Google image search to find a substitute. Benson Phiri was not found and the first photo that came up next had a the heading: "Women are central to Chewa culture and performances." I looked no further (even though it makes me guilty of exoticism and use of gratuitous [semi] nudity). Later, before writing this, I searched further and I'm glad I did. The Chewa, so I learn from Wikipedia, is a matrilineal society, in which "property and land rights are inherited through the mother." And, like the heading to the photo source, "Women have a special place in Chewa society and belief" (did I redeem myself?)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saraswatibai Fatarpekar

Shrimati Saraswatibai Fatarpekar
10" x 8", oil on canvas, 2014
Everything I know about Raga Basant "Aayi Ruta" by singer Saraswatibai Fatarpekar is from Excavated Shellac. The blog about rare 78 recordings from all the world posted in 2013 an item including a recording of the song Aayi Ruta. The research on Excavated Shellac is always impeccable and any gaps will be filled in by any of the many musicologists commenting on the site. Suresh Chandvankar of the Society of Indian Record Collectors added some scans from a catalog. It included the image of the (obscure) singer Saraswatibai Fatarpekar that I used as source for the painting above. The recording was made around 1933 in Bombay. Raga Basant means evening raga. All I can add is another portrait painting done on top of yet another small amateur colorfield painting.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Songs the Swahili Sing

Juma Bhalo
10" x 8", oil on canvas, 2014
A second track in the top 100 from the LP Songs the Swahili Sing: Classics from the Kenya Coast on John Storm Roberts' Original label is from the taarab master Mohamed Khamis Juma Bhalo.  Known as the King of Taarab "professor JB" passed away in April of this year, Bhalo was born in 1942. The LP was recorded by Roberts in the early 80s and released in 1983. Juma Bhalo's song is Kem Kem.
Finishing up the last paintings for the top 100 just got an enormous boost with the purchase of a boxful of used canvases in various sizes at a per-pound thrift store in Fort Myers. Somebody who was into painting abstract geometric almost minimalist paintings must have given up. All paintings were unsigned and simply not interesting enough to research who it was that donated all these canvases to the Goodwill store. The smaller canvases, it appears, were painted by someone else. At least the top layers, superimposed on rough geometric designs, are such that they were either the artist's playful sketches or given to perhaps a family member to play with. I didn't gesso out the canvases but on this Juma Bhalo painting the ground has been almost totally obscured. Yesterday's painting of Ros Sereysothea shows more of the 'found' background.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Khmer Rocks!

Ros Serey Sothea
10" x 8", oil on canvas, 2014

The criteria to evaluate the quality of a painting are embedded in the process of making it. It always involves some kind of surprise element. The trouble with many paintings starts when there is no such surprise happening. Then there usually is a strong temptation to evoke it. Enforced and calculated surprises cease to be surprises and it's better not to demand anything from your painting other than just painting the thing you set out to paint in the first place. It is difficult enough to just paint a picture without enforcing any idea or expectation. A picture without the reference of 30 years experience, 30 years of learning the history of art, 30 years of evaluating art is nearly impossible to make (but I try).

Ros Serey Sothea is a Khmer Cambodian singer of romantic (and later also patriotic) songs. Her early recordings are traditional ballads and later work consists of popular, even psychedelic, songs. In her short career, she died in 1977 at the age of twenty-nine, she recorded hundreds of songs. I only know one, and it's a good one. I'm not even so sure if it is her singing on that recording distributed by All other information on that record, besides Vol. 78, is in Cambodian script but a picture on the sleeve is unmistakably Ros Seresothea. The website Bodega Pop did an item on it and shared with me and the rest of the world this gem that is known by Gary of Bodega Pop and me only as track 4.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

tommy johnson and the raincoats

Tommy Johnson, the Raincoats
8" x 8.5", oil and collage on wood, 2014
I worked incredibly hard and long on this painting. It measures only eight by eight and a half (68 square inches) which makes the average time spent on each square inch about twenty minutes. It first was an oil sketch depicting the Raincoats, and as such discarded. I picked it up much later, turned it sideways to paint a portrait of blues musician Tommy Johnson. That portrait was alright but the painting still wasn't. There was a ghost left of the Raincoats that I liked and refused to cancel out. So it then was turned back to its original orientation and the Raincoats took precedence again. But not after a border of World Cup stickers were added. (I particularly like Didier Drogba right on the shirt of singer and bass player Gina Birch.) Tommy Johnson's song in the top 100 is Big Road Blues, a song so powerful that bands, a radio station, and websites were named after it. And it also was a book, a whole book dedicated to that one song, and it's one of favorite books on music, ever, it is Big Road Blues:Tradition and Creativity in Folk Blues by David Evans. Themes in that book can universally applied and, as a matter of fact, my whole artist thesis is based on it. And of course, the song was covered many times, Canned Heat is just one of them (Johnson also recorded a song, in 1928, called Canned Heat Blues.) The Raincoats' song is In Love, which is together with Fairytale in the Supermarket, my favorite Raincoats song. Now the Raincoats don't have much in common with Tommy Johnson, and even less with a bunch of World Cup stars, but hey...

Monday, November 24, 2014


Patricia Gonzalez
17" x 14", monotype, 2014
My collection of Latin American records is growing steadily. This is due to an influx of, mostly Mexican, records in the thrift stores of south Florida. This is reflected in the Top 100 Archive. In the the nearly finished Top 100 2013/14 there are as many surnames like Gonzalez, Sanchez, and Rodriguez as the are Smiths, Johnsons, and Williamses. In some thrift stores in Miami nearly half of the records come from one Latin American country or another. It's a bit messy, browsing through the shelves in thrift stores in Miami (where of course records are placed on the lowest shelves in the entertainment section of the store). The condition of the records is mostly poor, often the wrong disc is inside a jacket, if there's a jacket at all. Sometimes you'll find the back half of the jacket in a different location than the front half, and the vinyl in yet a third location. It is hardly a deterrent for me. I may assume that those records in good shape represent less popular ones, and I assume too that I often like less popular records better than popular ones. And that introduces me to this gem I found in a Goodwill store on Tamiami Trail in Naples. The gem is an LP by the Ecuadorian singer Patricia Gonzalez titled Un Amor Canta al Amor. The singer is pretty obscure, she doesn't have a presence on line, and as far as I can tell, it's the only one she ever made. But it's spectacular, and in near mint condition too. I saved painting her portrait from the image on the cover of the record for this special occasion that was a monotype workshop that I conducted just today. It's been waiting in anticipation for many weeks. Monotypes are cool. ♥ 'em!