Norah Jones featured on Anoushka Shankar’s New Song, “Traces of You”

I ran across this music video today by sitar* player and composer Anoushka Shankar. This song, titled “Traces of You” features her half-sister Norah Jones. Overlapping voices create the feeling of a dream-like sequence that make up most of the song. But perhaps the most appealing feature is the cross cultural aspect of the music—it contains “traces” of India, and Western culture as well.

*The sitar is a plucked stringed instrument used mainly in Hindustani music and Indian classical music. Anoushka trained on the sitar with her father (famous Sitar player Ravi Shankar) as a child, and signed her first record contract with Angel Records (EMI) at the young age of 16. In 2003, she was nominated for a Grammy, becoming the youngest-ever and first woman nominee in the World Music category for her third album, Live at Carnegie Hall. Her fourth album RISE earned her another Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary World Music category in 2005, and in February 2006 she became the first Indian to play at the Grammy Awards.

Sing a Song! Sing a Note! Sing a Chord? My Take on Lalah Hathaway’s New Sound

Firstly, I have to apologize to all of my readers for being extremely late on this post. This should be about getting all of you the interesting music quickly, before mainstream takes over and ruins all of the fun, and I’ve failed here.

I watched the video below of Lalah Hathaway a week or 2 ago, and sadly, I’m just writing about it now. Nevertheless, it’s still important to highlight because she may just be changing the face of music as we know it today.

Snarky Puppy is a Brooklyn, NY based group led by Michael League that was formed in Texas in 2004. The band comprises nearly 50 musicians, many of whom were once students at the University of North Texas. They are not your typical band as they perform on a variety of instruments including guitars, pianos, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

In March of this year, Snarky Puppy and special guests convened at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, VA to record a series of live performances that would bring attention and benefit to the ongoing work of the center.

One of the performers was Lalah Hathaway, who needs no introduction. She stands at the edge of the stage as a conductor normally would—though a microphone takes the place of the typical conductor’s music stand and her voice takes the place of the baton. Each band member can see her clearly; they do not have music stands either, nor a single piece of sheet music.

Neo-soul, afrojazz, Earth Wind & Fire, grand improvisation, perfect crescendos and decrescendos are all words that come to mind while listening to this song (what comes to yours?).

And then Big band…

The number of talented musicians that grace the stage makes the process seem complex in and of itself. But the music may not be as complex as one may initially believe. In fact, it ‘s foundation is simple. The keyboard begins in half steps and initial transitions are in whole steps – maybe a jump or two in between (a 4th to be exact). Why? Well, check out minute 3. It’s all about the voice, the music creates itself around Lalah Hathaway, as if her voice is the tree, and leaves flow from the branches perfectly (or something).

And then the vibes…

4:40, the backup singers kick in, the band starts vibing, Lalah’s tempo takes off in jazz-influenced ad-libs.

And then the magic…

6:12, I don’t know what else to call it besides a chord – or maybe two simultaneous notes? Lalah sings simultaneous notes with her voice. I think. Is that even possible? Then she does it again. Really, how is that possible? Again. I think, it might be possible Again. IT’S POSSIBLE.

One blogger, Mal Webb had an interesting take on it, writing:

“…I’m fairly sure what she’s doing isn’t actually “overtones”, as in the air in oral cavities resonating to create another note (which are the high overtones or “harmonics” that the Mongolian/Tuvan singers do). Lalah’s is a vibration of the “false vocal folds” (also called “ventricular folds”), which are two fleshy parts either side of the vocal folds that can be drawn together to create extra notes (or noise!). It’s these that create the Tuvan/Tibetan/Inuit throat singing “growls”, as well as death-metal screaming and rock distortion. But what Lalah is doing is a much lighter, breathy contact”…

I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of overtones and the above description – along with two notes. Don’t take it from me though. Let your ears have a listen. 

How Do Artists Get Views on YouTube?

Melanie Fiona recently did a cover of Drake’s “Started From the Bottom,” creating a simple beat and turning the rap song into an R&B song of her own. Melanie’s already a well-known artist on the scene with two Grammy’s under her belt, so we have to wonder why she’s spending time doing covers. Was she was bored or does she just really like the song? Or, more likely, maybe she’s just staying relevant.

Whether they admit or not, emerging artists care what fans think about their music. After all, fans are the ones that pay the bills. Obviously, Melanie Fiona is not an emerging artist, but she is an artist that knows the importance of marketing. With social media dominating the way young people communicate, word of mouth and the virality of the internet drive record sales. Once an artist releases his music into the ‘cloud’ of the internet, he essentially gives the world permission to disseminate his track in any way it sees fit. Bad or good, publicity is publicity in the world of entertainment.

So what better way than to take advantage of YouTube and the millions of people who are already searching the site for videos? Obviously, musicians take advantage of this everyday. BUT, for some reason, most don’t want to post covers.

The explanation goes beyond fear of people “not liking” the song. You see, musicians are all about finding their own style, and differentiating themselves from others. Think about it – the most successful artists are those that are unique. So when a relatively unknown artist posts a cover of a popular song, she automatically takes away from her “uniqueness” since this is the way in which (most) of the world hears about her. To take an extreme case: imagine covering a Whitney Houston song that soon afterwards goes viral. Next thing you know, everyone in the world starts calling you the next Whitney Houston. Sure, it may seem like a great compliment at first, but it might not be so flattering when the world starts to realize you are not Whitney Houston…at all.

So, question for the musicians out there: what do all of you think about doing covers? Is it possible to make it without appealing to the audience and the songs they already know? Covers seem like an automatic way to get subscribers. If you need to increase your views, does it really hurt to take a shortcut and do a few covers?

Just a few.

Some advice for CU Artists: Move the Crowd!

Now that I’m back from China, I’ve taken the past few weeks to check out a few shows and see what’s going on with artists on campus. I have to say, I’m quite impressed with both old and new. From new songs to entirely new EPs and albums, my iTunes playlists are blowing up. However, after attending a few shows, I feel that I need to share some advice with artists…that is, you need to MOVE THE CROWD!! You know, Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff “I Wanna Rock Right Now” style.

We’re in collegeWill Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, right? That means students go to shows to release some stress (esp. at Columbia), have fun, and hear some good music. Most artists have the good music part figured out, but the artists that really stand out are the ones that relate to the audience. How, you ask? Eye contact, call-and-response (you know, Taylor Simone style), reaching out to the audience…literally. Have you ever been at a concert, and the artist screams “Now, wave your hands back and forth like this!” All of the sudden, the crowd moves in sync – a certain energy spreads across the room. Everyone “vibes” together, as if the music unites us. That’s what we need in college. If you’re a rapper and the crowd is quiet, break out a freestyle. If you’re a jazz artist, make sure your instrument is heard in a solo. You’re in a rock band? Make everyone stand up. Impress, impress, impress. Do something’s a live show, and we’re in college. It’s all about fun..right? Engage with the audience, and your show will be that much better.