Case of the Mondays – Focus Artist: Jakubi

AYO to Mrs. couch potato, she’s in her own world in the state of San Diego…

 

I’m sure we can all agree that Mondays seem like the perfect time to be a couch potato. But alas, this society of ours dictates that we MUST get up and make a living for ourselves.

That’s why we need music like Jakubi’s newly released ‘Couch Potato’ – to remind us that we can dream of being lazy, sleeping, dreaming….

In all seriousness though, I love this new single by Jakubi, an Australian band that has garnered a strong online following and is set to tour through America in just a few weeks. They uploaded their first track ‘Can’t Afford It All’ to Soundcloud in 2013, and since then, they have over a million plays via YouTube and SoundCloud. According to their kickstarter:

“Jakubi have signed with Melbourne’s 123 Agency and are represented by New Frontier Touring in the U.S. Jakubi’s unique flavour is made up of an irresistible combination of jangle guitars, hip hop beats and sailing synth rhythms. From melding the sounds of a talk box one minute, to reggae-inspired guitar the next – the band’s diversity is reinforced through their infectious, experimental collection of songs.”

Also check out their kickstarter video to learn a bit more about the band. They’re apparently on track to record an EP with a ‘major producer,’ which means…you should probably go see their show while it’s still cheap. I haven’t been able to find their tour dates, but when I do, I’ll be sure to update this post.

 

 

 

Rudimental & The Roots Picnic: The Right Music at The Right Time

I had the pleasure of attending the Roots Picnic this past weekend. Performances ranged from old/established artists like Freeway, Snoop Dogg, The Roots, Doug E. Fresh, A$AP Ferg, etc. to new ones. Obviously, considering the scope of this blog, I was more interested in the new ones.

show

Roots Picnic 2014, Source: Bars and Chords

Remember when we talked about why artists do covers on YouTube? Well, think about festivals/outdoor concerts as taking this concept to the next level…or next few levels depending on how you look at it.

While festivals are a time commitment, next to social media and the internet, they are arguably the best way to get exposure to new fans. Think of the smaller festivals as mini-marathons. You run the smaller races so you can qualify for the bigger marathons like NYC, Boston, etc., or in this case, Coachella, Made in America, etc.

Bad Rabbits was one of the bands I came into the event most excited about. They performed well, and have a fresh, eclectic sound. However, I have to admit they are a bit hard to connect with. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but something’s missing… check out one of their videos here to see if you agree.

So who ultimately stole the show?

Rudimental

Rudimental

Rudimental, Roots Picnic 2014, Source: Bars and Chords

Perhaps it was the crowd I was with – they were all extremely excited about this group – but Rudimental is the definition of right music, right time. The group has already been a hit in the UK, hence the millions of views they have on YouTube. See below for one of the songs I cannot seem to stop playing.

 

There had to be at least 8 performers on stage during the show, but the core group consists of Amir Amor, Piers Agget, Kesi Dryden and DJ Locksmith (Leon Rolle). They have multiple Platinum awards under their belt, a Brit Award, and the Mobo Award for Best Album, in addition to several other notable nominations.

What was particularly spectacular about their performance at the Roots Picnic was their seamless integration of the singers into their music. Two backup singers – and by backup, I mean they stood in the background on an elevated stage at the beginning of the show – ultimately became the lead singers later on. Come to find out, the band actually prefers working with unknown vocalists and sourcing new talent rather than recruiting established stars.

It’s a perfect idea – and they’ve managed to bring to light an up and coming star named Anne-Marie. She was absolutely incredible to say the least. She had a soulful voice, vibrant energy, and passion for the words she was singing, which filtered through the crowd. What else is cool? After the show, she chilled in the crowd and enjoyed the rest of the show…like a normal person. I managed to dig up a video of her singing live (Video).

All in, Rudimental delivered the perfect blend of soul, electronic music, and plain old fun. Look for them to make waves through America and bring their careers to unimaginable heights. There’s nothing like the right time, right music.

**Side note: Jhene Aiko also performed to a HUGE crowd – it’s interesting to see how much her career has taken off.

African Americans in Jazz: Scott Joplin, The King of Ragtime

In the second of our series on African Americans in Jazz, we look at one of the greats: Scott Joplin a.k.a. the “King of Ragtime.”

scott_joplin_29 (1)

As one of the (if not the) pioneers of ragtime, Mr. Joplin was part of a pre-jazz genre that  began as dance music among African American communities in St. Louis and New Orleans. Then ragtime made its way over to popular sheet music for piano. Ragtime can have a lot of meanings – remember, music can never really be defined – but when you hear Mr. Joplin’s music, you might think of cadences (i.e., you know when a verse is about to end), and syncopation (off-beat rhythms).

Mr. Joplin is fairly popular already given he was such a talented musician. Hence, for our purposes of becoming more familiar with his music, we’ll focus on his most well-known/not so well-known pieces rather than specific historical anecdotes. Here are a few fun facts though:

Born: ??? – yes, question mark. Historians do not know for sure when or where he was born. Some pinpoint him as being born in Texas–the US Census Bureau locates him there in 1970  at the age of 2. We do know that he was the son of a laborer and former slave.

Instrument: piano, mainly.  He taught himself on a piano belonging to a white family’s home where his mother worked (note: this was later depicted in his opera ‘Treemonisha’), and ultimately studied with a local, German-born teacher who introduced him to classical music.

Cities: He moved a lot. He grew up in Texarkana, TX (where the??) but ultimately settled in Sedalia, Missouri  in 1894. About two years later, he took music classes at George R. Smith College in Sedalia, an institution for African-Americans, though evidence suggests he never mastered his musical skills there.  He later moved on to St. Louis and New York.

That was fun. Now, on to the music.

 

MAPLE LEAF RAG

Let’s start off with his first hit, Maple Leaf Rag. Believe it or not, it wasn’t popular initially when it was contracted in 1899. In fact, only ~400 copies were sold. By 1909 however, around half a million copies had been sold, earning Mr. Joplin a steady revenue stream (1c royalty on each sale) for the rest of his life.

Maple_Leaf_Rag
Perhaps the below quote from President Roosevelt’s daughter, which was recalled by a member of the Marine Band, sums it up best:

Miss Roosevelt came up [at a White House reception] and said, “Oh, Mr. Santelmann, do play the Maple Leaf Rag for me. . . . ” The Maple Leaf Rag?” he gasped in astonishment. “Indeed, Miss Roosevelt, I’ve never heard of such a composition, and I’m sure it is not in our library.” “Now, now, Mr. Santelmann,” laughed Alice, “Don’t tell me that. The band boys have played it for me time and again when Mr. Smith or Mr. Vanpoucke was conducting, and I’ll wager they all know it without the music.”

 

THE STRENUOUS LIFE & THE ENTERTAINER

After the Maple Leaf publication, Joplin went on to complete a stage work called The Ragtime Dance and a rag called Swipsey. He then moved in 1901 to St. Louis with his new wife, Belle. There were several significant publications that Joplin released while in St. Louis, including The Strenuous Life and The Entertainer. The Strenuous Life has an interesting context, as it is believed to have been written in honor of President Teddy Roosevelt and his speech The Strenuous Life.

Of course, many of us have heard The Entertainer, probably in nursery school during a round of musical chairs, or perhaps at a carnival while on a ferris wheel that never seems to end. OR on an old cell phone ringtone…you know, the flip phones that some have never even heard of today.

 

TREEMONISHA

Lastly, we take a look at Joplin’s opera, ‘Treemonisha’. Yes, an opera – something I know many of you have never attended. Many have asserted that the opera was never performed in full, despite a positive review received by the American Musician and Art Journal. However, a WSJ article published a few years ago cites Rick Benjamin – the founder and director of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra – as saying: “Joplin did in fact succeed in performing ‘Treemonisha’ for paying audiences in Bayonne, N.J. in 1913.” And he had himself orchestrated it.

For background, the opera is about Treemonisha, the only educated member of her community, who leads her townspeople out of the bondage of ignorance and superstition. It is a tribute to both Joplin’s mother, given the education aspect, and to his second wife Freddie, with the opera taking place in Sept 1884, the month and year of  Freddie’s birth.

For more on the opera, check out the WSJ article noted above.

 

Obviously, we haven’t even begun to touch the number of songs Scott Joplin wrote, nor the impact he had on the communities around him. Hopefully though, this serves as a way of background on his influence and mark on music, particularly jazz.

 

 

 

If you’re interested in delving further into the topic, check out these sources below:

http://www.scottjoplin.org/biography/

http://www.biography.com/people/scott-joplin-9357953#awesm=~oFsYXIfxdbYcwZ

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/scott-joplin-mn0000843212

 

 

 

 

 

 

Case of the Mondays – Focus Artist (s): Lily Allen and BOOTS

Lily Allen is back after a four year hiatus with an album title that is outrageous, yet refreshing: Sheezus. I haven’t taken the time to listen to the album yet, but there are plenty of reviews out already if you’re curious (i.e., The Guardian’s review). For the record, most of them aren’t that great unfortunately.

For this week’s Case of the Monday’s song, we’re focusing on her single “Sheezus.” The lyrics below speak for themselves really. It’s a humorous twist on Kanye West’s egoistical persona, and one that takes a (fearful) stab at some of the leading female artists in the industry.  “now wish me luck, I’m gonna need it I’ll see you on the other side, if I’m still breathing” she sings. Have to give a girl credit for being honest don’t you?

While the idea behind the song is creative though, the execution is a bit poor. The “ha ha” melody is too simple, and it seems like her producers could have taken this to another level. Sadly, even Lily has acknowledged it:

When a fan tweeted that her first new material in five years was “docile pop rubbish”, she agreed, saying her label wouldn’t support “the better stuff” on her third album.
sheezus-lily-allen-cover

So all in – I like this song, but wish she had done more. When basic people realize your song sounds pop-py, that’s bad. “Sheezus” is definitely catchy for our own purposes of Case of the Mondays though!

 

 

 

**Side note**: what do you guys think about this new BOOTS song  feat Beyonce? It’s just ok to me but everyone seems to love it. Let me know your thoughts.

 

 

African Americans in Jazz: A Walk Through the 1800s – Francis Johnson

Here we begin our first leg of learning about jazz and take with a walk through the 1800s.

As most know, jazz became a widespread phenomenon during the 1900s, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist during the 1800s. Over the next week, we’ll take a look at three African American artists who made big strides in music during this time: Francis Johnson, Edmond Dede, and Scott Joplin.

First, we take on Francis Johnson. It’s difficult to find his compositions, but as you read the below, take a listen to some of them here. One of my favorites is “The New Bird Waltz.”

Francis Johnson

Francis_Johnson

Born in 1792 as a free African, Francis Johnson represents one of the most influential African American composer-conductors of the pre-Civil War era. Philadelphia-raised and the child of an interracial union, Johnson quickly made his mark as a musician by performing in local venues and playing for the elite.

By his 15th birthday, he was an expert in flute and piccolo, fiddle, bugle-horn, and pianoforte. And by 1815,  he had become a band leader, teacher and composer for militias, notably composing in rapid succession 4 of the most important pieces in the annals of American martial music.  What we’ll focus on here however is his biggest legacy: his introduction of Promenade concerts in Philadelphia.

In 1837, Frank Johnson made an announcement that he was traveling to Europe to further his knowledge in music.

During his journey, Johnson heard Auguste Pilati and his promenade concerts in Britain. Pilati was a former player in the orchestra of Frenchman Philippe Musard. He tried to capitalize off the success of Musard’s promenade concerts in Paris by introducing them in London, but this attempt was short-lived. Curious about these concerts, in early January 1838, Johnson voyaged to Paris, where he attended a few promenade shows and met with Musard himself .

Johnson’s attraction to the promenade concerts stemmed from his own interests and talents in the creation of cotillions and marches, which were a form of dance music. The difference between this ballroom dance music and the promenade concerts lied in how people perceived them. Audiences went to the ballroom to dance while they went to concerts to listen to dance music. People loved to both listen and dance to Johnson’s music, whether it was outside in Saratoga Springs or inside a hotel in Philadelphia. However, unlike Johnson’s own ballroom performances, Musard’s promenade concerts served as a source of entertainment available to the masses. They attracted “the ordinary man and woman who never went to a concert and could not afford to do so but who wanted a pleasant evening’s entertainment at a low price.”  It was this concept that Johnson found valuable enough to bring back with him to America.

By the time Johnson arrived back in Philadelphia on May 19, 1838, he carried with him a new belief: that all could enjoy music, for it was universal. He also realized that he needed to promote his own music to be successful.  Thus, Johnson became the first American bandmaster to systematically publicize in advance “through newspapers and handbills not only his own band but each composition and composer to be presented in the program as well.”  The thousands of concertgoers who decided to attend his “Musical Soirees” provide evidence of the immense success of his promotions. On December 24, 1838, an advertisement in the Public Ledger stated that a concert by Francis Johnson would be held in the Philadelphia Museum “…on the plan of those held at Musard’s celebrated rooms at Paris…” The ad goes on to state that with the variety of music being offered, and the low admission fee, thousands would be able to assemble nightly and enjoy the intellectual source of amusement. Thus, in this ad Johnson made sure to emphasize his purpose in throwing these promenade concerts, which was to make it affordable and enjoyable for all.

These promotions worked tremendously well for him; the Museum was often obliged to close its doors to crowds of people long before the performances began. In addition, Johnson maintained a wide variety in his programs, rarely carrying one song over to the next night.

Johnson died in 1844 after a sustained illness at the age of 52, but the steps he made in a series of firsts – the first African American to have his works published as sheet music – the first to give public concerts – the first to present concerts abroad – and more – paved the way for those to come. And one of the most important pieces in his career was promoting music as something that could be enjoyed by everyone. As we’ll soon explore in further detail, this became one of jazz’s main attractions.

Note: I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the racial tension that Johnson had to endure during his musical career. But historical works show that it was less of an issue than one might presume: “…with but few unpleasantly memorable exceptions, [Johnson] seemed to have lived and worked relatively free of the racial problems building in the world around him.” He tended to stray away from the social activist and abolitionist movements in Philadelphia. Instead he focused on his music and frequently traveled to New York to perform in front of large crowds.  Thus, as Johnson put his music above all else, we might also try to do so here.

 

Sources

Griscom, Richard. “Francis Johnson: Philadelphia Bandmaster and Composer.”University of Pennsylvania Almanac 58.22 (2012): n. pag. University of Pennsylvania Almanac. Web. 9 May 2013.

Jones, Charles K.. Francis Johnson (1792-1844): chronicle of a black musician in early nineteenth-century Philadelphia. Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 2006. Print.

Southern, Eileen. The music of black Americans: a history. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 1997. Print.

What is Jazz?

“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

― Louis Armstrong

I’ve been meaning to get around to doing a series of posts on jazz artists but unfortunately, life happens.

Ironically though, the recent events surrounding Donald Sterling have reinvigorated my interest in doing so.

Jazz – it is not a genre that one can define. Just check out Mr. Armstrong’s quote above. But it is something that we have been able to identify as a core part of African American culture. True, it has grown into a part of American culture too…but from the King of Ragtime to the Empress of Blues and the inventors of bebop – Blacks have defined jazz, invented jazz, and used it as a means of getting up when they’ve felt the world’s weight pressing down. Frederick Douglass wrote in his biography that “Slaves sing most when they are unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.”

Negro spirituals, jazz, hip hop, etc. have all sang the sorrows (and the joy) for African Americans.

What better time than now then, to look back in time and reflect on the most influential African Americans that have shaped jazz, used it as a means of expression, and have ultimately led us to where we are today?

But does jazz even exist anymore? It’s a question our generation has to wonder everyday and a question that we may eventually answer on this journey. After all, sometimes we move so fast, that we forget where we even began. By the way, while I hate to acknowledge it, I’m sure I will miss many of the names that jazz enthusiasts hold dear to their hearts. My purpose though is not to identify every single African American that influenced jazz, for we’d be reading these posts for the rest of our lives. Rather, I hope to start a conversation, trigger some intellectual thoughts, and learn about the legends we’ve missed along the way.

 

So check back here on May 3rd**, where we’ll begin our journey in the 1800s, and take a look at some of the ‘pre-jazz’ African American artists who started paving the road.

 

 

Case of the Mondays – Focus Artist: Le P

I blinked, and it was Monday again…depressing, I know.

BUT it was also 70 degrees this weekend in NYC, which meant I saw people I hadn’t seen since winter began, I was able to finally retire my North Face, and I almost wore shorts. yay.

In the spirit of spring and concerts and happiness, this edition’s Case of the Mondays brings you another international artist–Le P. Thanks to technology and our weird, entrepreneurial and amazing generation, DJs have transformed from supporting artists in shows to being the show themselves. Now unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out much about Le P other than the fact that he is a French DJ housed under Bambousek, a French Digital label (here’s his FB page). No matter though, the song I think you will all enjoy is called History and it features Michael Jackson. Yes, MJ is perfectly blended into this song, which makes it an automatic winner and a song I will be jamming to at the beach–if I ever make it there this summer.

Oh, and as a bonus feature, Le P has a song with Sam Smith…and you all know how much I love Sam Smith.

 

 

Lykke Li and the Power of Change

So I was going to just do a quick post titled Lykke Li releases new music video, but I’ve realized that this isn’t just any video…

To be honest, I had to watch it about five times before I discovered the underlying meaning. After the second time, I almost went to Google and typed Lykke Li music video meaning…which speaks to how lazy I can be at times

About the video: “No Rest for the Wicked is the second song I wrote for I Never Learn,” says Lykke Li. “I wrote it in Sweden when I was packing up my sh**, and I’d just gotten out of a relationship and it was a horrible time. I just had the hurt, shame, sadness, guilt, longing. The vocal track, the take, is the demo. In the verse, I’m referring to myself pleading guilty, but I’m referring to all of us.”

Take a look:

 

Hopefully you’ve figured out that this is about racism (in 1 sitting, unlike myself) – the struggle of an interracial couple to survive through wicked eyes and hate.

My intellectual readers will likely be excited about this one because it brings up a lot of serious questions and issues. Right away, I have to wonder why I didn’t notice what the topic was in the first place? My initial reasoning is that it wasn’t something I was looking for…in reality, it’s told from a white person’s point of view (she’s Swedish, I know, but still). It’s rare to see this type of struggle being told from the other side. Second, perhaps I’ve gotten used to the blood and gore associated with racism and hate told on the big screen…it’s sad, but think about it, all we saw was her boyfriend trying to get up, and then ultimately falling to the ground. Completely different image than i.e., 12 Years a Slave.

Third, the plot seems like it’s more about love than hate…scenes of the couple running through the fields, hugging, going out together always seem to be at the center of the video, interrupted by the flashes of staring eyes. It’s probably why I missed the ‘wicked’ eyes in the first place.

Bottom line, I appreciate Lykke for making this video and bringing the topic to life. We need to address it, not pretend it doesn’t exist. I won’t get into the debate here, but seriously, you have to be glad that we can still use the power of music to catalyze change.

Case of the Mondays – Focus Artist: Banks

I have a case of the Mondays, which usually occurs every Monday to be honest.

And this new artist (new, depending on how you define it) is speaking to my mood right now. Banks—yes, just Banks—was featured in Vogue last year as “Artist of the Week” where the author wrote: Her songs perfectly capture a feeling of being lost and powerless in the world. But the music is powerful, the opposite, as she put it, of helpless.”

banks 2

She has also toured as the opening act for The Weeknd and perhaps strangely, but somewhat unsurprisingly, her sound is being described as ‘dark R&B’

…not sure what the world is coming to but, if you also have a case of the Mondays too, take a listen