Monday, March 31, 2008

Soul Sides' Box Set 2: Bugalú / Boogaloo mix

Check out this great Do the Boogaloo file mix (complete with playlist and notes) created by Oliver Wang at his Soul Sides blog. Click through the adds to listen to the music and check out the blog.

Bjork's 3-D "Wanderlust" video

"Wanderlust" was my favorite song on her most recent album, so I'm glad it got the eye-popping treatment it did in its video.

The New York Times has a short video on the making of Bjork's Wanderlust video available at New York Times Video. The actual video is also available on the Times' website (click the post title to go there) but is easier to find on YouTube (2-D, of course):

Peruvian Chicha in NY: Chicha Libre and the Brooklyn-Peru Connection

Village Voice
Chicha Libre and the Brooklyn-Peru Connection
Bringing Lima's trippy underground sound to Park Slope
by Richard Gehr
March 25th, 2008 12:00 AM

The Peruvian music sensation known as chicha wasn't on Olivier Conan's cultural itinerary when the Brooklyn musician and club owner flew into Lima in 2005. The Paris-born expat was a bigger fan of guitarist Oscar Aviles, singer Arturo "Zambo" Cavero, and other emotionally supercharged criollos. So he was delighted to hear buskers performing his favorite song, Zambo's "Cada Domingo à las Doce Despues de la Misa" ("Every Sunday at Noon After Mass"), not long after stepping off his plane. (He'd even recorded the tune in New York with his own group, Las Rubias del Norte.) A fervent record collector, Conan soon stumbled upon Lima's flourishing army of street vendors, specifically some mom-and-pop record shops that he says exhibited "almost curatorial tendencies." One such savvy proprietor introduced him to vintage tracks by chicha pioneers Los Mirlos—"the old Amazonian stuff"—and Conan was hooked: "I must have bought 600 songs while I was down there."

Named after a popular fermented Andean beverage usually made of maize, chicha blends the traditional Peruvian sounds of the Amazon, Andes, and coastal regions with the dance music of Colombia and Venezuela. Cumbia Amazónica, as it is also known, developed in the oil-boom towns of Iquitos, Moyobamba, and Pucallpa during the 1960s, when certain bandleaders took a notion to modernize their sound by replacing cumbia accordions with Farfisa organs and adding garage-psych electric guitar to the tropical rhythms. Los Mirlos attached the term Poder Verde—"Green Power"—to this new sound, while Juaneco y Su Combo proudly flaunted their Shipibo Indian garb onstage. As migrants from the mountains and rain forest moved into Lima's gray environs, the Andean strain came to predominate in songs reflecting ghetto struggles and the migrant's plight. Chicha's main add-on in Lima was the folkie huaynos pipes sound of the Andes, though "El Condor Pasa" this ain't.

Upon returning to Brooklyn, where he'd moved in 1984 at the age of 22, Conan assembled a new group he called Chicha Libre. Cumbia not being native to Peru, Conan had no qualms about adding his own Anglo-Gallic spin to the style once the group got into the groove. "Peruvian cumbia is to Colombian cumbia what British r&b was to American r&b," he says: "They play it wrong, and that's why it's so good." Since September, Chicha Libre has played nearly every week at Barbès, the smartly curated Park Slope club that Conan owns with surf-rocking guitarist Vincent Douglas. This month, Chicha Libre releases its first album—¡Sonido Amazonico!—on Barbès Records.

Conan synergized the sextet's residency with the September release of 2007's best international reissue, The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru, which joins releases from Slavic Soul Party!, One Ring Zero, and Las Rubias del Norte on Barbès. Like Chicha Libre's debut, this enormously satisfying compilation kicks off with Los Mirlos' irresistibly sinuous chicha national anthem, "Sonido Amazonico." Chicha's golden-age Amazon and Andes variations are well-represented on 17 tracks, recorded between 1968 and '78, that groove along as smoothly as fine vintage reggae. Juaneco y Su Combo, to whom Conan plans to devote a greatest-hits release, cook up a strange brew indeed in tracks like "Vacilando Con Ayahuasca" ("Floating With Ayahuasca"), in which the potent jungle psychedelic delivers an orgasmic kick. (The rest of the album is psychedelic only in the sonic sense.) Chicha's first star, guitar hero Enrique Delgado, deploys a mean wah-wah pedal on "Para Elisa," Los Destellos' snazzy take on Beethoven's "Für Elise." Los Hijos del Sol bandleader Ángel Anibal Rosado contributed what might be chicha's most singularly groovy tune, "Cariñito." And Los Diablos Rojos bring it all back home—or at least to Cuba—with standout dance raves like "El Guapo" and "Sacalo Sacalo."

As cool rulers of Peru's underclass, ignored by critics and the upper crust alike, it's unlikely that these fine artists ever expected chicha to thrive outside Peru, especially insofar as many of its innovators are already dead. Half of Juaneco's group, including songwriting guitarist Noé Fachin, perished in a 1976 plane crash. Enrique Delgado died in 1996. And Ángel Rosado isn't doing so well, either. "When we first called Ángel, he cried on the phone," Conan says. "He was so excited that he started playing us all the songs over the phone, from beginning to end. I felt like a complete impostor. I'm not Sony Music; I'm just some guy from Brooklyn. I'm not going to make him rich." As he pursued the tracks he wanted to use, Conan had to decide whether to use master tracks that the original artists no longer owned, or substitute remakes. "I feel really bad, because I want to help out the musicians," Conan empathizes. "But I'm not going to put out a bad CD to do it." The good news, at least for Conan, was that Infopesa, chicha's predominant label, conveniently still owned most of the masters.

One of the hardest-working signifiers in Peruvian culture, chicha also applies to both architecture (combining handmade tiles with cheap aluminum siding, for example) and the prensa chicha, the inexpensive and bloody Lima tabloids once co-opted by the country's corrupt president, Alberto Fujimori. As the title of the recent film Chicha tu Madre suggests, Peru's emerging chicha culture is garish, tacky, sexual, and slangy. With its myriad racial and class signals, it's thus the subject of much scholarly and political discourse, with the Shining Path's responsibility for driving millions of Andeans into Lima just one harsh historical factor among many.

On Sunday afternoons, Lima's chicha massive has traditionally assembled by the tens of thousands in parks and empty parking lots known as chichodromos. The generation of pioneers heard on Roots of Chicha gave way to more mainstream bands like Los Shapis, the dapper counterparts to chicha's biggest '80s group, Chacalon y la Nueva Crema. Los Mirlos continue to perform in chicha's standard configuration of male musicians flanked by a pair of G-string-clad, booty-shaking dancers typically photographed from the ground up in many an entertaining YouTube clip. Chicha's third and most recent incarnation is tecnocumbia, whose (thus far) cheesy electronics broke in the Amazon before spreading rapidly through the country.

With DJs chopping/screwing the latest crop of Colombian cumbias, the chicha revival can't help but smack of nostalgia, although back in Brooklyn, Barbès is far from an Andean-Amazonica Social Club. So far, only a few dozen chicha fans can comfortably enjoy York's own chichodromo action at this divine hole in the wall, situated below a tanning salon and beside a decent patisserie (create your own metaphor) on an otherwise unremarkable Park Slope corner. There you'll find Chicha Libre—which consists of Conan (on the four-stringed Venezuelan cuatro), Vincent Douglas, One Ring Zero keyboardist Josh Camp (playing a mind-bending faux accordion called an Electrovox), former Combustible Edison bassist Nick Cudahy, and veteran percussionists Greg Burrows and Timothy Quigley—playing their franco-norteamericano chicha each Monday night. They cover chicha classics like Juaneco's "El Borrachito" ("The Drunk"), lay down class-struggle koans in originals like "The Hungry Song" ("I have no mother, I have no father/But I have coca, and I have cola"), and chicha-fy Satie, Ravel, and the Clash with equal syncretic fervor. Apart from some slightly goofy cowboy hats, the kitsch ends as soon as these honkies start to kick it some 3,600 miles north of Lima's bleak cityscape, with hardly less of an intoxicating effect than their jungle-boogie-ing predecessors.

Chicha Libre and Los Rubias del Norte play the ¡Sonido Amazonico! release party April 4 at Drom,

It’s Not You, It’s Your Books

New York Times
March 30, 2008
It’s Not You, It’s Your Books

Some years ago, I was awakened early one morning by a phone call from a friend. She had just broken up with a boyfriend she still loved and was desperate to justify her decision. “Can you believe it!” she shouted into the phone. “He hadn’t even heard of Pushkin!”

We’ve all been there. Or some of us have. Anyone who cares about books has at some point confronted the Pushkin problem: when a missed — or misguided — literary reference makes it chillingly clear that a romance is going nowhere fast. At least since Dante’s Paolo and Francesca fell in love over tales of Lancelot, literary taste has been a good shorthand for gauging compatibility. These days, thanks to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, listing your favorite books and authors is a crucial, if risky, part of self-branding. When it comes to online dating, even casual references can turn into deal breakers. Sussing out a date’s taste in books is “actually a pretty good way — as a sort of first pass — of getting a sense of someone,” said Anna Fels, a Manhattan psychiatrist and the author of “Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives.” “It’s a bit of a Rorschach test.” To Fels (who happens to be married to the literary publisher and writer James Atlas), reading habits can be a rough indicator of other qualities. “It tells something about ... their level of intellectual curiosity, what their style is,” Fels said. “It speaks to class, educational level.”

Pity the would-be Romeo who earnestly confesses middlebrow tastes: sometimes, it’s the Howard Roark problem as much as the Pushkin one. “I did have to break up with one guy because he was very keen on Ayn Rand,” said Laura Miller, a book critic for Salon. “He was sweet and incredibly decent despite all the grandiosely heartless ‘philosophy’ he espoused, but it wasn’t even the ideology that did it. I just thought Rand was a hilariously bad writer, and past a certain point I couldn’t hide my amusement.” (Members of, a dating and fan site for devotees of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” might disagree.)

Judy Heiblum, a literary agent at Sterling Lord Literistic, shudders at the memory of some attempted date-talk about Robert Pirsig’s 1974 cult classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” beloved of searching young men. “When a guy tells me it changed his life, I wish he’d saved us both the embarrassment,” Heiblum said, adding that “life-changing experiences” are a “tedious conversational topic at best.”

Let’s face it — this may be a gender issue. Brainy women are probably more sensitive to literary deal breakers than are brainy men. (Rare is the guy who’d throw a pretty girl out of bed for revealing her imperfect taste in books.) After all, women read more, especially when it comes to fiction. “It’s really great if you find a guy that reads, period,” said Beverly West, an author of “Bibliotherapy: The Girl’s Guide to Books for Every Phase of Our Lives.” Jessa Crispin, a blogger at the literary site, agrees. “Most of my friends and men in my life are nonreaders,” she said, but “now that you mention it, if I went over to a man’s house and there were those books about life’s lessons learned from dogs, I would probably keep my clothes on.”

Still, to some reading men, literary taste does matter. “I’ve broken up with girls saying, ‘She doesn’t read, we had nothing to talk about,’” said Christian Lorentzen, an editor at Harper’s. Lorentzen recalls giving one girlfriend Nabokov’s “Ada” — since it’s “funny and long and very heterosexual, even though I guess incest is at its core.” The relationship didn’t last, but now, he added, “I think it’s on her Friendster profile as her favorite book.”

James Collins, whose new novel, “Beginner’s Greek,” is about a man who falls for a woman he sees reading “The Magic Mountain” on a plane, recalled that after college, he was “infatuated” with a woman who had a copy of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” on her bedside table. “I basically knew nothing about Kundera, but I remember thinking, ‘Uh-oh; trendy, bogus metaphysics, sex involving a bowler hat,’ and I never did think about the person the same way (and nothing ever happened),” he wrote in an e-mail message. “I know there were occasions when I just wrote people off completely because of what they were reading long before it ever got near the point of falling in or out of love: Baudrillard (way too pretentious), John Irving (way too middlebrow), Virginia Woolf (way too Virginia Woolf).” Come to think of it, Collins added, “I do know people who almost broke up” over “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen: “‘Overrated!’ ‘Brilliant!’ ‘Overrated!’ ‘Brilliant!’”

Naming a favorite book or author can be fraught. Go too low, and you risk looking dumb. Go too high, and you risk looking like a bore — or a phony. “Manhattan dating is a highly competitive, ruthlessly selective sport,” Augusten Burroughs, the author of “Running With Scissors” and other vivid memoirs, said. “Generally, if a guy had read a book in the last year, or ever, that was good enough.” The author recalled a date with one Michael, a “robust blond from Germany.” As he walked to meet him outside Dean & DeLuca, “I saw, to my horror, an artfully worn, older-than-me copy of ‘Proust’ by Samuel Beckett.” That, Burroughs claims, was a deal breaker. “If there existed a more hackneyed, achingly obvious method of telegraphing one’s education, literary standards and general intelligence, I couldn’t imagine it.”

But how much of all this agonizing is really about the books? Often, divergent literary taste is a shorthand for other problems or defenses. “I had a boyfriend I was crazy about, and it didn’t work out,” Nora Ephron said. “Twenty-five years later he accused me of not having laughed while reading ‘Candy’ by Terry Southern. This was not the reason it didn’t work out, I promise you.” Sloane Crosley, a publicist at Vintage/Anchor Books and the author of “I Was Told There’d Be Cake,” essays about single life in New York, put it this way: “If you’re a person who loves Alice Munro and you’re going out with someone whose favorite book is ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ perhaps the flags of incompatibility were there prior to the big reveal.”

Some people just prefer to compartmentalize. “As a writer, the last thing I want in my personal life is somebody who is overly focused on the whole literary world in general,” said Ariel Levy, the author of “Female Chauvinist Pigs” and a contributing writer at The New Yorker. Her partner, a green-building consultant, “doesn’t like to read,” Levy said. When she wants to talk about books, she goes to her book group. Compatibility in reading taste is a “luxury” and kind of irrelevant, Levy said. The goal, she added, is “to find somebody where your perversions match and who you can stand.”

Marco Roth, an editor at the magazine n+1, said: “I think sometimes it’s better if books are just books. It’s part of the romantic tragedy of our age that our partners must be seen as compatible on every level.” Besides, he added, “sometimes people can end up liking the same things for vastly different reasons, and they build up these whole private fantasy lives around the meaning of these supposedly shared books, only to discover, too late, that the other person had a different fantasy completely.” After all, a couple may love “The Portrait of a Lady,” but if one half identifies with Gilbert Osmond and the other with Isabel Archer, they may have radically different ideas about the relationship.

For most people, love conquers literary taste. “Most of my friends are indeed quite shallow, but not so shallow as to break up with someone over a literary difference,” said Ben Karlin, a former executive producer of “The Daily Show” and the editor of the new anthology “Things I’ve Learned From Women Who’ve Dumped Me.” “If that person slept with the novelist in question, that would probably be a deal breaker — more than, ‘I don’t like Don DeLillo, therefore we’re not dating anymore.’”

Rachel Donadio is a writer and editor at the Book Review.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones

Bass Player
Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones

By Brian Fox | January, 2008

After nearly three decades of other projects, rock’s top musical alchemist is ready to shake the world again with Led Zeppelin.

Chemistry—life as a musician can cultivate a deep understanding of how it all works. But forget about moles and molecules, polymers, and peptides. In music, that’s not the kind of chemistry that matters.

On the subjects of rhythm-section magnetism, melodo-harmonic catalysts, and general rock & roll entropy, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones is an undisputed expert. A musical alchemist of the highest order, Jones’s tenure in what is argued to be the most influential rock band of all time has yielded some of the most productive experimentation in music.

With his quick reflexes, uncanny intuition, and seemingly bottomless skill set, Jones was the ultimate addition to Led Zeppelin, a rhythm-and-blues supergroup formed in 1968 by guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, and drummer John Bonham. Armed with years of experience as a session bassist and arranger—having worked with the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, and Donovan—Jones brought a deep groove consciousness and an ear for experimentation, folding keyboards, mandolin, and much more into his band’s potent brew of blues, folk, rockabilly, and hard rock.

Today, Jones spends most of his time assisting on other people’s projects, most recently producing bluegrass outfit Uncle Earl’s Waterloo, Tennessee [Rounder, 2007]. (Jonesy even appears in the band’s bizarre “Streak o’ Lean, Streak o’ Fat” music video, a postmodern audio-visual mash-up of kung-fu, Irish stepdancing, and bluegrass.) Meanwhile, Jones has continued with his own music, currently working toward his third solo record.

All that, of course, is overshadowed by the obvious: Led Zeppelin is reuniting.

From the explosive blues of the band’s early records though the mystical folk and world-music explorations of its later sets, Led Zeppelin was always ambitious and on point in the studio. But for Jones, Zeppelin has always been, first and foremost, a live band. Since John Bonham’s death in 1980, Jones has performed just twice with surviving bandmates Jimmy Page and Robert Plant: at Live Aid in 1985 (with Phil Collins on drums), and at an anniversary concert for Atlantic Records in 1988 (with John Bonham’s son Jason on drums). That is, until now. The group came together on December 10 to perform at a massive tribute concert for Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmeet Ertegun, who died in 2006. At press time, rumors of a full-blown reunion tour are hitting fever pitch, and it seems likely the band will make this grand reunion more than a one-off. The timing couldn’t be better, as two new releases have birthed a new brood of Zeppelin fans: the 24-track Mothership [Atlantic], collecting key cuts from each of Zeppelin’s eight studio albums, and the expanded DVD/CD reissue of The Song Remains the Same [Warner Home Video/Swan Song], Zep’s 1976 concert film.

With Led Zeppelin set to soar once more, the band’s utility man spoke with Bass Player a few days before the December 10 performance at London’s O2 Arena.

How did Zeppelin prepare for this reunion?
We did about four days’ rehearsal in total secret—just to see whether we could play together—and it was fantastic. We played through a couple of well-known numbers, and it was amazingly tight. So we decided to go full swing with rehearsals right through until the show.

What was your first priority in rehearsals?
I didn’t want to have to think about what I’m playing—that’s where you run into trouble. It’s got to be familiar so I can feel loose. And there can’t be any hesitation.

Had you played much with John Bonham’s son, Jason?
I think we played at his birthday party once—maybe it was his wedding reception. People talk about “growing up with the music,” but Jason really did. There are obviously similarities with his dad: He hits hard, and it sounds right. Plus, he really knows all the songs—even parts the rest of us have forgotten. He’ll ask things like, “Do you want to do the ending from 1972, or the one from ’75?” [Laughs.] Plus, he’s a really lovely guy as well, and he’s brought a lot of energy.

How did the recent reissue of The Song Remains the Same come about, and what was your hand in it?
The original was mixed to have a sort of enlarged stereo sound with some ambience and effects—like a guitar chord seeming to swirl over your head. We remixed the whole thing in Dolby 5.1 surround sound. For legal reasons, we weren’t allowed to touch a single frame of the film, so if there was anything out of sync we’d have to work around it. We’d just nudge things around slightly, keeping the groove and the musicality.

In July, you hooked up with Ben Harper and ?uestlove for Bonnaroo’s celebrated SuperJam set. How did that come about?
I was invited to be in the core band for the SuperJam, which, as I understood it, meant we’d be a rhythm section for lots of other musicians to get up and jam with. But when we got there, nobody else got up! [Laughs.] We had a couple of hours to get to know each other—I had never met either of them. We tried “Dazed and Confused” and said, “Well, let’s just wing it.” We made five or six numbers last for two-and-a-half hours in front of around 20,000 people. For a trio that’s never played together before, it was pretty good!

You also sat in on mandolin, bass, and keyboards with a several bands playing the festival.
Yes, I played with Uncle Earl, whose record I produced, and also with Gillian Welch, and Dave Rawlings, because I’m big fans of theirs, and because I just like playing bluegrass mandolin. I also sat in with Gov’t Mule, and had a two-man bass jam with Juan Nelson during Ben Harper’s set. Everybody was really nice, and we had a blast. It was a great festival.

Do you still play your ’62 Fender Jazz Bass?
I use it for recording, but I don’t take it out. I’ve even got my old Teddy Wallace session amp, which I had renovated. It’s a 30-watt tube combo with two 12" speakers. It’s what I used for all those sessions in the ’60s.

In the late ’70s, you often played an Alembic bass.
That Alembic 4-string was made for me by Rick Turner. It had LEDs all the way up the fingerboard on the top, which was nice. My tech used to just hold it up and I could walk onstage in a blackout!

You were one of the first bassists to experiment with 8-string. What were some of the challenges you faced?
When I started playing 8-string, it was very hard to get the action right. Rotosound made a bass string with an exposed core—based on piano string design—making 8-string setup much easier.

Did you prefer flatwounds or roundwounds on your 4-string basses?
Everybody used to think I used flatwounds, but I stopped using flatwounds back in the session days because they just didn’t give me the sustain I wanted.

What was your keyboard setup?
It changed over time. I used to use a Mellotron, which was the only way you could get a string or flute sound in those days. But you’d never know whether it was going to be in tune, so I replaced that with a Yamaha GX1, the big green machine. In the end, I think I used a Fairlight, an early 8-bit sampler.

When you played keyboards live, there was often a strong bass presence. Did that come from organ footpedals?
Yes. I had bass pedals littered all over the stage. I’d be there with a triple-neck guitar, bass pedals, and keyboards, and Robert would ask, “Can you sing, as well?”

What was your contribution to Led Zeppelin’s overall sound?
I was a sort of Motown and Stax specialist when I was a studio musician, and I brought that groove into Led Zeppelin. Bonzo was also a big R&B fan, so there’s a lot of it in the Zeppelin rhythm section. In addition to keyboard, mandolin, and other things like that, I just brought my musical experience. I’ve always said that Zeppelin was the space between four individual musicians, and it was bigger than the sum of its parts. We all had completely different musical tastes, and we didn’t try to emulate any other band. Soul, jazz, country, folk, Arabic, Indian—we all had these different influences, and we weren’t ashamed to whip them out at any time. The way those influences mixed became Zeppelin.

What was the first Zeppelin rehearsal like?
We met up in a tiny room in London and all looked at each other, working out what we were going to play. It was kind of like, “Well, what do you know?” “I don’t know, what do you know?” Page said, “Do you know ‘The Train Kept Rolling’?” I said no, and he said, “It’s in E, but there’s a riff that starts on G.” He showed me the riff and counted it in, and the room just exploded. We all looked at each other and knew we had something special.

Bonham’s drum phrasing was unusual.
Absolutely. He was like that—a very imaginative drummer. He could pick out the interesting parts of a riff and come up with a really cool part.

How would you go about matching up with his drums?
Since Bonzo’s kick-drum playing was so complex, it was much more effective to synchronize and play with the kick rather than just boom right across it. That was part of our style; I would leave out notes in order to let a kick or a snare come through. That’s especially effective with a really good drummer—it makes the rhythm come alive when you leave holes for the drums to pop out.

When and why would you switch from playing fingerstyle to playing pickstyle?
My preference is fingerstyle, but I often had to play with a pick in the session days, so I got quite used to it. I can play “Immigrant Song” with my fingers, but it just sounds better with a pick. Same with “Black Dog.” It just gives you different phrasing, and a more metallic, guitar-y sound. I didn’t see any reason not to swap one for another if the occasion demanded it.

How did Zeppelin communicate onstage?
There was eye and ear contact. Robert always used to tell me to stand up in the front. I used to play the first song up front, then I’d gradually edge my way back to my favorite position: just under the ride cymbal off the corner of the drums, where I could feel the kick. For improvised parts we would group around center stage with a lot of eye contact, and a lot of focus. That concentration is what made it successful. Anybody could take anything anywhere, and we’d all follow.

What was the band’s approach to recording and touring?
To me, Led Zeppelin was a live performance band. We would make a record and that would be the blueprint. Then we’d go off and play the record live, and it would move on from there. I’m pretty used to recording studios, so it was no big thing to be in the studio. Playing live was the most fun for me; I think that was the best of Zeppelin. But when we were sorting out the track list for Mothership, I had the occasion to listen to the old tracks. I’d be listening to one track and end up listening to the whole album—not something I normally do—thinking, Oh, we did that? This is great!
Thirty Years Gone

In July 1977, Jonesy talked for a tick with Guitar Player. Here’s what he had to say.

On good bass playing “I don’t like bass players that go boppity boppity bop all over the neck. You should stay around the bottom and provide that end of the group.”

On session work “I always thought the bass player’s life was much more interesting in those days, because nobody knew how to write for bass. They used to say, ‘We’ll give you the chord sheet and get on with it.’ So even on the worst sessions, you could have a little runaround.”

On the first Led Zeppelin rehearsal “We met just to see if we could even stand each other. Robert had heard I was a session man, and he was wondering what was going to turn up—some old bloke with a pipe?”

On remembering songs “I could never remember—I’m still the worst in the band remembering anything, and the group jokes about it. I even have a piece of paper stuck on top of the Mellotron that says: ‘Kashmir’—remember the coda!”

On amplification “At first I used a converted television, one of those big standup televisions with the amp in the bottom and a speaker where the screen should be. I ended giving myself double hernias. It never occurred to me when I was deciding between bass and drums that I’d have to lug a bass amp.

“Amps were always murder. We used Vox amps, and I had the big Vox T-60. It sounded great, but we had to have an arrangement with Vox to replace them every couple of weeks because they would not last any longer. Suddenly there’d be a horrible noise, and the thing would just sit there looking at you.

“Our first tour was a shambles. For about a year I never even heard the bass. We had a deal with Rickenbacker, who designed a speaker cabinet with one 30" speaker! I plugged it in, and in a matter of seconds I blew it up. Univox also came up with a bass stack which, unfortunately, didn’t last. But while it was going, it was the most unbelievable sound I’ve ever heard. It was at the Nassau Coliseum in New York, I remember, and the bass filled the hall. I don’t think I’ll come across anything that sounded like that. Then I used two or three Acoustic 360s for quite a long time—they served me well.”

On his first bass “Before I got a real 4-string, my father had a ukulele banjo I strung up like a bass. My father didn’t want to back me in the payments for a bass. He said, ‘Don’t bother with it—take up the tenor saxophone. In two years the bass guitar will never be heard of again.’ I said, ‘No, Dad, I really want one—there’s work for me.’ He said, ‘Ah, there’s work?’ And I got a bass right away—a solidbody Dallas bass guitar with a single cutaway.”

On his Gibson EB-1. “I generally don’t like Gibson basses because they feel rubbery—I like something you can get your teeth into. But I got a hold of a very nice old Gibson ‘violin’ bass. I used it on Led Zeppelin III and still every now and again, usually when I’m tracking a bass after I’ve done keyboards. The one I have went through Little Richard’s band, then through James Brown’s band before arriving in England. In fact, I saw it on an old movie clip of Little Richard.”

On his Alembic “Rick Turner made me an Alembic bass, and it’s beautiful. When your intonation is true on all four strings all the way up the neck, you suddenly realize you can play chords, and the notes are clear. It’s a whole different way of playing. But I try to never forget my role as a bass player: to play the bass and not mess around too much at the top.”

On strings “When I tried flatwound strings on the Alembic, I lost half the instrument. The Alembic demands you use something a bit brighter, otherwise you’re doing the instrument a disservice. Plus, the roundwounds seem to fill out better if Jimmy’s soloing.”

On effects “What can you do with the bass, anyway? You can go wah-wah-wah, or you can phase it and make it sound even muddier than it usually does.”
Zep Returns!

Believe the hype. Taking the stage for the first time in twenty years, Led Zeppelin proved after just a few explosive numbers that it has lost none of its arena-rocking power. The real magic of the fierce foursome’s December 10th return lay in its willingness to stretch out and jam, even if it meant a few dropped beats and missed cues. After an obvious flub in “Dazed and Confused,” John Paul Jones even shot Jimmy Page a look that seemed to say, “Well, better luck next time.” We can only hope there is one.
Zep Set

With Led Zeppelin (on Atlantic, except where noted)
Led Zeppelin [1969]
Led Zeppelin II [1969]
Led Zeppelin III [1970]
Led Zeppelin IV [1971]
Houses of the Holy [1973]
Physical Graffiti [Swan Song, 1975]
Presence [Swan Song, 1976]
The Song Remains the Same [Swan Song, 1976]
In Through the Out Door [Swan Song, 1979]
Coda [1982]
BBC Sessions [1997]
How the West Was Won [2003]
Led Zeppelin (DVD) [2003]
Mothership [2007]

Solo albums (both on Discipline)
Zooma [1999]
The Thunderthief [2001]
Current Gear

Basses Manson 4-string and 10-string (tuned EADGC) with EMG pickups
Rig SWR SM-900 with various SWR speaker cabinets
Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song?

Leave it to Led Zeppelin to keep the mystery alive. While guitarist Jimmy Page recently hinted the band might re-reunite after Robert Plant finishes touring with vocal partner Alison Krauss, nothing’s bankable. The web is heavy with hyperbolic praise of Zeppelin’s celebrated return to the stage for its December tribute to Atlantic Records visionary Ahmet Ertegun. But what really went down at London’s O2 Arena? After writing Bass Player’s February ’08 cover story on Zeppelin’s harmonic helmsman John Paul Jones, BP Associate Editor Brian Fox took a trip to see the man—and band—back at it. Here’s a page from his travelogue.

I knew I had to manage my expectations. Of course it was going to be pretty awesome—after all, I was about to see the greatest rock band of all time. But could Led Zeppelin, after all these years, still play with the youthful intensity it had used to change the face of rock? I had my doubts.

Having caught bassist John Paul Jones’s set with Ben Harper and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson at Bonnaroo a few months prior, I felt like I had caught that dude’s dry run: the all-star trio had ripped through the most beloved Zeppelin riffs for the exuberant crowd. Jones still had it—that much I knew. But the band?

I’d been lucky enough to earn an invite to the December 10th performance, but I was warned this wouldn’t be an all-access affair. Still, I was happy with a spot to watch the show from a designated media room adjacent to the action, and the atmosphere was electric as I watched ecstatic fans file into the arena.

As it turned out, press accommodation was pretty dismal: a soundproof room with a bank of phone lines and a single television wired—we were told—to carry the performance taking place not a hundred yards away. And lots of bottled water. The pain of being so close—and yet so far—from the music event of the decade might kill me, but at least I wouldn’t die of thirst.

Panic set in as technicians struggled to configure the closed-circuit connection. It seemed the band hadn’t authorized transmission of the audio feed, and a venue representative relayed the bad news that was we’d have to report on the show purely from what we saw on the tiny screen. It didn’t sit well, with reporters having come from as far as San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro. As the ire grew to a crescendo—peaking when the Brazilian contingent suggested that taking a hostage might strengthen our position to bargain—audio began to croak from the television box in the corner, and the most agitated members of the press began to simmer down.

With technical issues sorted out midway through the opening set from Foreigner, we scrambled for spots on the floor in front of the television, bent on viewing the performance from the best possible vantage point. Finally, showtime. A slide-show montage of the band unfolded on a massive screen above the stage as we stared at the TV and settled in for the ultimate Zep set.

I had other things in mind. Banking on the promise of being escorted into the arena for one or two songs, I stalked the press liaison, eager for my chance to observe the scene from inside. Keeping an ear out for my escort cue, I listened as the band tore through “Good Times, Bad Times” (track one from the band’s 1969 debut, a fitting opener). “Ramble On” seemed to steamroll the skeptics among us.

Around me, another mild panic ensued. It seemed some sort of miscommunication meant the crew had been unable to erect a media pen to keep us from simply wandering off into the crowd (Hmm, hadn’t thought of that…), putting escort privileges out of the question. Again, the outspoken among us made it clear: That wouldn’t fly. Corralling a small herd of reporters gathered near the door, a hassled press handler took his chances that we were an honorable lot (fat chance) who wouldn’t overstay its welcome once inside the arena. Leading us past a gauntlet of security guards, we entered the arena just as Robert Plant’s “Hey hey, mama” shout kicked off the killer “Black Dog.”

Enchanted, I let my feet carry me closer to the action. I kept an eye open for my cue to return to the media room, but before I knew it I was sucked in by the gravity from the stage. Out of eye contact with my media pack, I was on my own. It seemed there was but one option: enjoy the show.

The energy radiating off the stage made it near impossible not to. Grabbing a Gibson ES-175, Jimmy Page set into “In My Time of Dying,” making the Gibson’s P-90s squeal with tortured glee. On a fretless Fender Precision, John Paul Jones responded, gliding across the fingerboard to create a churning bass vortex. The guys seemed to be just warming up. Jonesy tramped across stage to sit behind an Oasys keyboard rig to tap out the funky-as-hell clavinet groove for “Trampled Under Foot.” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” was next, Jones’s majestic Manson 10-string chime cranking the crowd’s rapture up a tick.

Returning to keys, Jones set into the sublimely ethereal intro to “No Quarter,” showing that while Page and Plant’s onstage jousting made for a good show, his own deep musicality was perhaps a more active ingredient in Zeppelin’s magic music potion. Taking it slow and heavy—and already drenched in sweat—Page channeled something dark and sinister for the bluesy “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” Throughout the night, Page was a study in contrast, showing great taste and discretion on moment, stretching beyond his own abilities and fumbling the next. Though I had begun to doubt his stamina after a few bungled lines in “No Quarter,” here he redeemed himself with some of the most heartwrenching phrases of the night. This was the real deal. Plant, having recently resurfaced to record a rootsy album of duets with Alison Krauss sounded comfortable, yet eager to prove he’s still got it. He does.

It was clear the dudes had done their homework, and the grooves sounded settled. Jason Bonham was holding his own in his father’s throne. Though he seemed to lack some of his father’s off-the-wall spontaneity, he made up for it with raw power. Just like the old days, Jones stood just off the drum riser, eagerly pursuing those magical drum-and-bass hookups that happen when talent and telepathy converge within a rhythm section. His face said it all: They were happening at every turn.

After the band’s collective battery seemed to drain during “Dazed and Confused,” which was plagued by botched cues and spotty soloing, it charged full-forward with “Stairway to Heaven” and “The Song Remains the Same,” making me wonder it Page’s apparent energy brown-outs weren’t part of a carefully calculated setlist arc. The insistent stomp of “Misty Mountain Hop” and controlled ecstasy of “Kashmir” pulled me out of my rhetorical flight and back into rock-and-roll reverie at hand, and the encore of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock and Roll” absolutely cinched it. These guys still have it in ’em. Let’s just hope they’re still willing to share.

Cachao Article in Bass Player Magazine

A photo of Cachao at Conga Summit in San Francisco (1986?), by bassist David Belove.

[Unfortunate timing for the following article, but it has good extras.]
Bass Player

By Rebecca Mauleón | March, 2008

The King of Mambo experiences a career revival—at age 89!

In the face of the music industry’s upheaval, one great innovator continues to flourish: bassist and composer Israel “Cachao” López, who at 89 is experiencing his latest career revival.

Throughout his eight-decade career, Cachao has been a driving force in the evolution of Cuban popular music, and he continues to treat audiences around the globe to its scintillating sounds.

Cachao approaches 90 with grace, wonderful memories, and a legacy of musical achievements. His pioneering efforts transformed Cuba’s national dance, known as the danzón, into one of the world’s most recognized forms—the mambo—and his seminal recordings of the Cuban jam sessions known as descargas paved the way for generations of artists who would be inspired to follow in his enormous footsteps. While he would wait until his mid 70s to receive the international acclaim he deserves (due in part to the efforts of actor/producer Andy García), his legacy as one of the world’s musical treasures is clear.

Born in 1918 in Havana, Israel “Cachao” López comes from a large musical family boasting over 30 bass players. He made his professional debut at age 13 with the Havana Symphony Orchestra before joining some of Cuba’s most popular dance orchestras, including that of flutist Antonio Arcaño in 1937. During the 30 years he worked as a musician in Cuba, Cachao played with some of the world’s most celebrated symphony orchestras, including the Philadelphia Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. During his stint with Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, Cachao—along with brother Orestes, a noted cellist, bassist, pianist, and composer—began arranging and composing danzones for the group. This seminal orchestra preserved the tradition of performing for many of Cuba’s elite social clubs, including the now-infamous Buena Vista Social Club (popularized in the film of the same name). Cachao was commissioned to write Buena Vista’s trademark danzón in 1939, and he and his brother were commissioned to compose thousands of pieces for the numerous clubs throughout Havana and surrounding cities.

“Playing during those years was a very segregated experience,” Cachao remembers. “There were both black and white social clubs. But on the occasion when we would perform outdoors, there would be a rope in front of the stage to divide the street: one side for whites and the other for blacks. Imagine that! They were there all together, dancing to the same music!” Incidentally, the musicians in Arcaño’s band were integrated, but apparently the social clubs weren’t ready for that.
From Danzón To Mambo

The danzón, the descendant of European-derived court dances and Creole innovations, emerged in the late 19th century as a courtship dance for elite society. As a through-composed instrumental form in ritornello (or rondo) form, the danzón experienced a gradual transformation as it began to expand. But by the late 1930s Cachao and Orestes were convinced the form needed modernizing, and they began to add improvisational elements to the danzón, which later spawned the birth of the mambo. At first known as nuevo ritmo (new rhythm), the López brothers’ innovation introduced an additional section that contained repetitive elements at the heart of Cuba’s popular dance music, the son.

The crucial ostinato structure of the son allowed the musicians to open things up, providing a steady vamp at the end of the danzón for improvisation, usually over the dominant chord. The result not only led to a more musically dynamic style, it compelled dancers to react by changing their steps to match the new rhythm. “This was the era of the syncopated beat,” Cachao remembers. “We musicians began experimenting with that, and the dancers reacted instantly!” In time, we would know this new dance as the cha-cha-cha, but meanwhile, the future of the danzón was sealed, and the word “mambo” was born. The term would certainly undergo several transformations, including the jazz-band experimentations of Cuban pianist and bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado, but the López brothers are its true founding fathers. “Prado always said he really didn’t know the meaning of ‘mambo,’ but he certainly used it a lot!” Cachao laughs. The word has roots in the Congolese Bantú language, still spoken within the Afro-Cuban spiritual and cultural communities today on the island. Its meaning implies the act of singing or storytelling, and Cachao notes that this was why the name was so significant in Afro-Cuban culture. Orestes’s 1938 danzón simply titled “Mambo” (with Cachao’s arrangement) would be the first popular and commercial use of the word for Cuban audiences. From that point onward, all Cuban danzones would be referred to with the term danzón-mambo to reflect the genre’s dramatic transformation.

At the heart of what Cachao represents as a bassist is the driving force of all popular salsa and Latin jazz music: the Cuban son, and specifically, the repetitive, syncopated bass line known as the tumbao. Cuban music is notorious for its captivating rhythm, much of which can be elusive to the jazz or classical player. The concept of providing a rhythmical foundation in an ensemble that is almost entirely syncopated can be challenging to newcomers, especially for bassists who have spent years walking four beats to the bar. The essential difference has to do with the intense polyrhythm in the Afro-Cuban tradition. The combination of highly syncopated tumbao patterns wrapped around a two-bar or four-bar ostinato pattern—known as the montuno—combined with the ever-present Cuban clave rhythm, serve as the backbone of virtually all Cuban dance music. This is the foundation that paved the way for the evolution of the modern “Latin” styles we hear today.
The Descarga Legacy

In the late 1950s, Cachao began recording a series of albums with other noted Cuban popular and jazz musicians in the jam-session-oriented descarga genre. “There were many of us from different bands, even different genres, making these recordings. After hours, everyone would gather in the studio coming in from our respective gigs—some in the cabarets such as the Tropicana—and someone would plop a bottle of rum on a table and push the record button. It was history in the making!” Drawing from the wealth of Cuba’s popular rhythms such as the son-montuno, conga, mambo, guaracha, cha-cha-cha, and many other styles, Cachao’s Descargas en Miniature and other albums celebrated the music’s highly improvisational nature within the simplest settings. For many aspiring Latin musicians, these recordings came to be the blueprint for Cuban rhythm study. The two- to three-minute gems on Miniature display a brilliance, passion, and spontaneity rarely captured in a studio recording, and the fact that the tracks were essentially unrehearsed testifies to the extraordinary musicianship of the players who graced those Havana recording studios. Descargas en Miniature has been the Cuban music bible for anyone playing or studying this music.

In 1962 Cachao made the difficult decision to leave Cuba. He traveled to Spain where he worked with a group known as Sabor Cubano (Cuban flavor) under the direction of Ernesto Duarte. “We worked all over the country. It was beautiful, and I felt totally welcome.” But his loving wife, Buenaventura (they married in 1946), had already joined family in New Jersey, and he longed to reunite with her. Cachao arrived in New York in late 1963 and began his prolific journey with a cast of Latin music giants. By the time he established himself in New York, virtually all of the top figures in Latin music were exploring the Latin big-band sound as well as the descarga concept, and Cachao was probably the most in-demand bassist on those classic New York sessions. From his sideman work with everyone from Tito Rodríguez, Machito, Tito Puente, the Alegre All-Stars, Chico O’Farrill, José Fajardo, and Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Cachao’s rhythmically powerful and melodic bass playing set the standard for many future players. “I remember one time Tito Puente and I formed this duet—just me playing bass and singing and Tito playing timbales and putting on a show. He was a great dancer. People loved it! Another time we got this little gig in Jersey with Candito on congas and singer Miguelito Valdés, but I was still working with Tito Rodríguez and Machito’s big bands at the time, so I had to be careful not to ruffle any feathers.” The well-known rivalry between the “Two Titos” in particular was a tricky subject for sidemen navigating between the Latin giants.

Cachao later spent several years in Las Vegas, much of that time performing alongside ringing slot machines in venues such as Caesar’s Palace, The Dunes, The Plaza, and others. “I had consistent work with Pupy Campo, even though attendance was pretty bad. People were there to play the slots, so no one really paid attention. Campo even titled the show ‘El Padre del Trueno’ [the father of thunder], but it wasn’t the most thrilling time in my career.” He also played a great deal with the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra, which provided some fairly stable income and at least a more focused audience, but he knew he needed a change. Upon moving to Miami in 1969, Cachao continued his sideman work and began recording a string of soon-to-be-classic albums as a leader.

The ’70s saw more descarga recordings as Cachao directed or participated in several seminal albums—most of them recorded in New York. The amalgam of top-notch musicians on the Tico and Alegre labels—with the Tico All-Stars under the direction of Tito Puente and the Alegre All-Stars directed by Charlie Palmieri—forged the Tico-Alegre All-Stars, and their 1974 live performance at Carnegie Hall with Cachao on bass became a favorite among collectors. Among the gems led by the Maestro is Dos [Salsoul, 1976], which featured some of Latin music’s most celebrated artists, including the late pianist Charlie Palmieri, trombonist Barry Rogers, trumpeters Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros and El Negro Vivar, and percussionists Manny Oquendo (timbales) and Carlos “Patato” Valdez (congas).

The 1980s proved to be an interesting decade for Cachao in that it brought him to the San Francisco Bay Area for a series of concerts, recordings, and a documentary film about Cuban folkloric drummer Francisco Aguabella (Sworn to the Drum, produced by Flower Films). Cachao performed in an all-star lineup entitled “Conga Summit” featuring percussionists Aguabella, Patato, Julito Collazo, and many others; the Bay Area Latin music community certainly knew of Cachao’s many contributions to Cuban music. Yet despite his prolific career, outside of the salsa and Latin jazz circles, not much wide attention was paid to his legacy or his genre.

That would all change following a performance at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, when as a featured artist with the Machete Ensemble for the 1989 San Francisco Jazz Festival, Cachao met his benefactor and No. 1 fan, Cuban-born actor/producer Andy García. Upon his visit backstage, García was so taken with el Maestro, he made the immediate decision to do whatever it took to support Cachao’s career and legacy. García subsequently produced two critically acclaimed CDs for Cachao on his Crescent Moon label: Master Sessions, Volumes 1 & 2, the first winning him his first-ever Grammy Award in 1994 at age 77. The second volume won Cachao a Downbeat Critics Poll in 1996.

The resulting collaboration and friendship with García led to appearances and recordings with Gloria Estefan (on the celebrated Mi Tierra album as well as her newly released 90 Millas), several Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning recordings (among them with Cuban piano genius and long-time friend Bebo Valdés), international tours and performances, critically acclaimed documentary films (the first produced and directed by García and another set for release in February 2008), and the honor of getting the 2,219th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in 2003. Also that year, García produced Cachao’s second Grammy-winning recording, Ahora Sí!, which includes wonderful footage of the sessions on a bonus DVD. Additional awards and honors include a Hispanic Heritage Award, an induction into the Smithsonian Institute, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Governor’s Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

In March 2005 Cachao returned to San Francisco as part of San Francisco State University’s multimedia celebration honoring Cuban culture, titled To Cuba With Love. Curated by the University’s International Center for the Arts (ICA), the program featured a weeklong series of gallery exhibitions, lectures, and concerts with Cachao as special guest and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award. The footage from the concerts—as well as conversations with numerous scholars and musicians about his musical legacy—is the subject of a documentary film titled Cachao: Una Mas (Cachao: One More Song), produced by the ICA’s Director of the Documentary Film Institute, Stephen Ujlaki. “This series was not only an homage to this wonderful man and his music, it was also the opportunity to document him in performance and to hear from many voices in the Latin music community,” Ujlaki says. “Making this documentary has really uncovered a family; much of the film includes wonderful conversations between Cachao and Andy as well as classic archival footage, plus his amazing shows.” Slated for its premiere at Mexico City’s International Film Festival in late February 2008, Cachao: Una Más has been a labor of love by the many skilled filmmakers and historians involved.

Throughout most of Cachao’s career, one person stood at his side: his wife of 58 years, Buenaventura. After every concert, she would embrace her husband and they would go off backstage hand-in-hand. Her passing in May 2005 left a void in Cachao’s life, and yet he insists, “She is always with me, after every concert, every recording. A love like that never leaves you.” Cachao was a one-woman man. “Everyone around was womanizing, but not me. There was only one woman for me my entire life.” While he may have slowed down a bit—he often sits on a stool while playing the bass—Cachao still insists he feels great and will keep playing whenever the opportunity arises. “Of course! Playing this music is what keeps me going. I feel perfect, and I am always ready to perform.”
Five Pros Offer Their Props

Andy Gonzalez (Fort Apache Band, Manny Oquendo & Libre, Chico O’Farrill Big Band): Cachao is my musical and spiritual father, and someone I’ve known and loved for over 35 years. Everything I play today has roots in his style. As a bandleader, he changed the course of Latin music several times, introducing street and dance elements to the formal Cuban danzón style, while also adding sophisticated composition and orchestration to the form. Then he developed the descarga, literally a jam style in which all of the band members are featured and let loose. Bass-wise, he’s the master of the science of the tumbao. He was a classically trained child prodigy from a family of over 40 bassists, who was playing with the Havana Symphony Orchestra at 15. He brought that knowledge into Cuban dance music, playing melodies and taking solos with the bow, and employing such ingenious devices as hitting the strings or the body of his bass to create a rhythmic counterpoint to his tumbaos. He’s a marvel, and best of all, he’s still going strong in his late-’80s!

John Benitez (Eddie Palmieri, Michel Camilo, Chick Corea): Cachao is one of the fathers of Latin music, who took it to a higher level of development and opened the doors for many. He brought in the mambo and other dance forms to the traditional danzón and really created a melting pot of Cuban dance music. In addition to his classical training and role as the principal bassist in the Havana Symphony, he showed the way to relate bass playing to conga drumming. He thought of his bass as a drum, so he was creating sounds right out of the tumbadora (conga drums)—hitting the bass and strings percussively with his hands. His genius and essence is the ability to find the exact right spot rhythmically in the division of the groove to excite it and drive it forward. You can hear that concept in a lot of contemporary Latin bassists, like Andy Gonzalez. Plus, Cachao has harmonic and rhythmic freedom in his playing, and openness using pedal tones and different rhythms. On top of it all he’s a beautiful, positive human being.

Lincoln Goines (Dave Valentin, Paquito D’Rivera, Tania Maria): Cachao implemented a certain kind of freedom on the bass; a looseness borne from his classical training and virtuosity—sort of like Oscar Pettiford in jazz. Cachao was one of the first to step out and not just lay down repeated patterns; he would alter and develop figures, like a drummer would do, or like a horn player riffing. The culmination was his descarga recordings, which are like the bible of Latin jazz, featuring incredible interplay with amazing musicians. On top of that, he was pioneering bandleader, composer, and arranger, just an all-around musical giant and innovator.

Oskar Cartaya (Willie Colón, Arturo Sandoval, Herbie Mann): Cachao is the maestro, a towering figure in Latin music, who has steered it in various directions. As a bassist, his situation was similar to James Jamerson and Larry Graham’s: when they started, there wasn’t a clear reference point, so they came up with their own concepts and those became the standard. In Cachao’s case we’re talking about a time when the bass didn’t even exist in some genres and ensembles! Cachao reformatted the whole idea of the tumbao. Before him, bassists were playing them very strict and straight. Cachao added rhythmic syncopation and melodic ideas, while still retaining the traditional foundation of the conga drum pattern. He was years ahead of his time and still is!
- By Chris Jisi
Selected Discography

As a leader

Descarga [Maype, 1959]
Descarga Guajira [Caney, 1959, reissued 2002]
Cuban Jam Session, Vol. 2 [Panart, 1957]
Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature [Panart, 1957]
Cachao y su Ritmo Caliente, From Havana to New York [Maype-Caney, 1961]
Dos [Salsoul, 1976]
Cachao y Su Descarga, Vol. 1 [Salsoul, 1977]
Latin Jazz Descarga, Pt. 2 [Tania, 1981]
Latin Jazz Descarga, Pt. I [Tania, 1981]
Maestro de Maestros—Cachao y Su Descarga ’86 [Tania, 1986]
Master Sessions, Vol. 1 [Crescent Moon/Epic, 1994]
Master Sessions, Vol. 2 [Crescent Moon/Epic, 1995]
Cuba Linda [EMI/Cineson, 2000]
Ahora Si! [Univision, 2004]

As a guest

Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, Danzón Mambo 1944–51 [reissued on Tumbao, 1993]
Generoso “El Tojo,” Trombón Majadero [Malanga Music, 1960]
Walfredo De Los Reyes y Su Orquesta, Sabor Cubano [Rumba, 1960]
Fajardo y Sus Estrellas, La Flauta de Cuba [Tania, ca. 1966]
Carlos “Patato” Valdez, Patato y Totico [Verve, 1968]
Tico-Alegre All-Stars, Live at Carnegie Hall [Fania/Emusica, 1974]
Tito Rodríguez, Tito, Tito, Tito [WS Latino]
Gloria Estefan, Mi Tierra [Sony, 1993]
Paquito D’Rivera, Presents 40 Years of Cuban Jam Sessions [Universal/Pimienta, 1993]
John Santos and the Machete Ensemble, Machete [Xenophile, 1995]
Bebo Valdés, El Arte del Sabor [Blue Note, 2001]
Various Artists, Calle 54: Music From the Miramax Motion Picture [Blue Note, 2001]
Danzón By Six, Elegante [Universal/Pimienta 2004]
Various Artists, The Lost City: Original Soundtrack [Univision, 2005]
Gloria Estefan, 90 Millas [Sony BMG Burgandy, 2007].
Films & Documentaries

Cachao: Una Mas, ICA Doc Film Institute, directed by Dikayl Dunkley (2008)
Calle 54, directed by Fernando Trueba (2001)
Cachao: Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos, directed by Andy García (1994)
Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella, directed by Les Blank (1995)
Cachao Online

On YouTube you can find numerous clips of Cachao playing live with his all-stars, including a tribute on September 22, 2007, when the Maestro celebrated 80 years in music at Miami’s Carnival Center alongside fellow octogenarian Candido Camero, singers Willy Chirino, Lucrecia, and Issac Delgado, plus a host of greats. “That was a very special show,” says Cachao. “So many wonderful musicians performed with me that day. It was magical.” The Maestro beamed through the nearly three-hour show as thousands of audience members sang along to classic Cuban sones, mambos, and descargas.

Women and the Cuban Batá Drums

[This is a significant article on the topic that was formerly available online but is now hard to find]

Center for Black Music Research Digest Spring 2000, 13 (1)
Cuban Batá Drumming and Women Musicians: An Open Question
by Elizabeth Sayre

This article is a follow-up to Andrea Pryor's interview with Nagybe Madariaga Pouymiró, which appeared in the last issue of CBMR Digest (Fall 1999) and continues to explore the role of women in batá drumming.

Cuban batá drumming, with its attendant song and dance styles, is the best known among several African-derived sacred performance traditions reconstructed and reinvented in nineteenth-century Havana and Matanzas—and perhaps also outside these urban centers (see Vélez 1996, parallel text, 1–12). The batá ensemble of three hourglass-shaped, double-headed drums-the iyá, or mother drum, flanked by the small okónkolo and the medium-sized itótele—plays a large repertoire of tightly interlocked melody-rhythms derived from praise poetry for the orishas, Cuban-Yoruba deified forces of nature. Many of the literal meanings of the Cuban toques (batá pieces) have been lost, yet contemporary bataleros can translate the meanings of some drum phrases, which include insults to provoke and praise names to soothe the orishas when they possess devotees. The batá generally are learned through apprenticeship with a master drummer, and the music is maintained relatively strictly, although some improvisation—based on musical rather than verbal ideas—does occur, increasingly so in more modern styles of playing. Still passed down within religious lineages in Cuba and elsewhere, batá drumming is also taught in Cuban music schools to both natives and foreigners, men and women, while would-be batá drummers in the United States and Europe learn from increasingly available transcriptions and recordings, as well as from immigrant master drummers. Now more than ever, the batá are becoming widely known outside the religious context.

Some of the most compelling and beautiful percussion music in the Americas, batá drumming has been the subject of a number of ethnomusicological studies in the past twenty years (see References); however, many musical, liturgical, and historical questions remain to be investigated. These include the question of the prohibition against women and gay men playing consecrated drums in the religious context. This prohibition extends to ceremonies that are played on aberikula (unconsecrated) drums—a type of ceremony that is more common in the United States than in Cuba because of the relative scarcity of consecrated drums here—as well as to many informal, secular settings such as drum and dance classes where unconsecrated drums are used (see Cornelius 1991 for changing dynamics in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s). This exclusion by gender or sexuality immediately affects women and gay men who wish to play or research the batá, precluding certain types of participation or participant-observation. As a woman percussionist and scholar (I play batá and other drums) and as a relative outsider to Lucumí communities, I am obviously far from unbiased, and I am personally implicated in these issues. Even so, the question of women and batá drumming goes beyond mere sexist exclusion, as seen from one perspective, or aggressive intrusion of Western feminism into Afro-Caribbean belief systems, as seen from another.

Explanations about the gender prohibition typically are given as follows.
· Women cleanse themselves through menstruation and therefore do not need to play batá, because playing is itself a cleansing.
· Añá (the orisha of the drums) is a feminine force, therefore a woman playing the drum creates an improper imbalance of gendered energies.
· The batá drums belong to the orisha Changó, the epitome of virility, and a woman player cannot enact the masculinity appropriate to this situation.
· Women are too susceptible to spirit possession to be given the responsibility of playing (men who possess easily are also forbidden to play).
· Feminine energy is of the earth, while masculine energy is of the heavens. Since the drums are used to call heavenly energy (orisha) to earth, men are the appropriate ones to do the calling.
· Because women menstruate, it is dangerous for them to approach the consecrated drums, because their menstrual blood may be mistaken as an offering to Añá.
· Because the menstrual cycle is associated with the Aje, or “witches”—antisocial, feminine spiritual forces—female contact with Añá will void the consecration of the drums (Marcuzzi 1995).

Religious practitioners readily admit that some of the explanations are inconsistent, even within Lucumí (Cuban-Yoruba) theological terms. For example, the batá are sometimes said to be owned by one of the aspects of the orisha Ochún, who represents the river and feminine beauty and sensuality. Also, in ceremony, women practitioners are permitted to touch their foreheads to the drums (foribale) as a sign of respect, just as men do. There is evidence that the tradition is not entirely closed to women players: batá drummers in Nigeria and Matanzas, Cuba, have been known to teach their daughters how to play in the interest of passing on knowledge to subsequent generations (Amira and Cornelius 1992; Fiol 1999; Drysdale 1999). It has been suggested to me that the rigid prohibition against women and gay men playing batá is a result of the influence of Spanish Catholicism on Yoruba beliefs. Whatever the religious or historical reasons for the practice, it continues today in all known contexts; however, the particular dynamics of the gender prohibition differ from place to place and from community to community.

The practice of Yoruba religion, like its music, is becoming more widespread and varied. Several excellent ethnographies document different regional developments in the United States (for example, Brown 1989; Daniels 1998; Hucks 1998). Many contemporary scholars of Yoruba religion, like earlier scholars such as William Bascom and Pierre Verger, have become religious practitioners. Conversely, practitioners are coming into the academy in ever greater numbers. As a result of these cultural developments, the distinguishing of “insiders” from “outsiders” is increasingly complicated, particularly as Yoruba religion now more than ever is a territory from which different, and often conflicting, cultural and political banners are flown (Matory 1998).

As a result, the question of women musicians and batá drumming cannot be reduced to the question of “outsiders” imposing their gender or sexual values on “insiders” or straight men discriminating against women and gay men. Wherever religious communities are active, it is still unusual and often controversial for women—whether insiders or outsiders—to play batá, even in nonreligious contexts.(1) Nonetheless, today there are at least four folkloric women's batá groups active in Cuba: Obini Batá and Ibbu Okun in Havana, Obini Aberíkula in Matanzas, and Obini Irawo in Santiago (Boggs 1992, 306–307; Strubbe 1999; Perkins 1995; Porter 1999; Drake 1999). There also are many women players in Europe, Japan, and Canada, as well as in the United States, where a few women's percussion groups are actively playing batá in traditional styles.
Given the increasing proliferation and differentiation of Yoruba religion and the widely varying dynamics of gender, religious and cultural affiliation, race, and class in the different cities and countries where it flourishes, the question of women and gay men playing batá drums deserves some ethnographic and scholarly attention. The following highly condensed history of batá drumming provides a context for contemporary debates on cultural and gender ownership of the drums.
During the Cuban sugar boom of the 1830s, enslaved and freed Africans from different ethnic groups pieced together, readapted, and added to local traditions from home to fit a brutal new context. For example, the drums in the Oyo (Nigeria) area that had saluted only ancestor spirits and Changó, the tutelary deity of music and dance, were redirected in Cuba to speak praises to an entire pantheon of forces, as people from different regions pooled their resources and memories to create a partly old, partly new spirituality that could address everyday problems in a familiar manner. Until they were banned by the government in 1884, the cabildos de nación, urban mutual aid societies organized by ethnic groups under the auspices of the Catholic church, were probably the most important sites for the maintenance of the Cuban-Yoruba and other African-based traditions (Brandon 1993). Drums and drumming were part of public and private celebrations centered around the cabildos (Brown 1989). At the turn of the century in Cuba, the Lucumí religion was forced to retreat from more public expressions and became centered in private homes, which still are the most important places of worship in Cuba and elsewhere (Brown 1989).

In the early twentieth century, Cubans began to claim their African heritage as part of their national identity, albeit with ambivalence (Moore 1997). Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz was a major intellectual player in the early valorization of Afro-Cuban expressions. In 1936, he commissioned the first set of aberikula drums ever made and presented master drummer Pablo Roche (also known as Okilakpá or “Strong Arm”) and his drummers in public performance on the batá. Since then, the batá tradition has had a secular as well as a sacred existence—in the streets, on the stage, and in the global marketplace (2)—although batá music remains more obscure than other famous African and Afro-Caribbean percussion such as the jembe and the steel pan (Charry 1996). Musical experiments blending batá with other genres began quite early. Ortiz (1952, 324–325), for example, reports his colleague Gilberto Valdes' attempts at composing for batá and symphony orchestra in the 1930s. Many jazz fans are familiar with Mongo Santamaria, Francisco Aguabella (selected as an NEA National Heritage Fellow in 1992), Julito Collazo, and other Cuban sacred drummers who contributed to Latin jazz in the 1950s and later. In the past fifty years, batá drumming has achieved a significant presence in the United States, where knowledgeable bataleros, whether Cubans or their first, second, or third generation students, are now found in all large metropolitan areas.

The Cuban Revolutionary promotion of Afro-Cuban traditions since the early 1960s, including the formation of professional folkloric ballets at the regional and national levels, has affected the batá drumming tradition profoundly. For certain highly skilled musicians in Cuba, batá performance and teaching have been professionalized (see Hagedorn 1995; Vélez 1996). Meanwhile, Cuban folkloric performance has become a model for drummers outside Cuba (Vélez 1994), especially since the early 1990s, when Cuban folkloric groups began to appear in the United States, and organized music and dance study trips to Cuba have become popular among many North American and European enthusiasts. Although frequently raised as a question or problem that requires more research (see Cornelius 1991; Amira and Cornelius 1992; Hagedorn 1995; Vélez 1996; Delgado 1997), the prohibition against women and gay men playing consecrated batá drums, and its relationship to religious, social, and political systems inside and outside Cuba, has never been directly explored in either academic or popular literatures. Andrea Pryor's (1999) all-too-brief interview with Nagybe Madariaga Pouymiró is therefore an important contribution. First, it is the only instance in any of the literature on Afro-Cuban sacred music where a Cuban woman musician's voice is heard. That she is from Santiago, and not Havana or Matanzas, also is unusual and valuable. There are some fine ethnographies and musical biographies on Afro-Cuban sacred drummers, but no one has written about any of the outstanding Cuban women musicians, such as Merceditas Valdes (who died in June 1996) or Amelia Pedroso, who have contributed much to Cuban orisha music.

Second, Pouymiró's theologically based arguments for women playing batá in ceremony are worth noting since women players in Cuba and abroad typically have justified their activities by carefully delineating them as secular or folkloric. Examining issues of gender and sexuality in relation to the batá tradition very well may shed new light on the “folklorization” of Afro-Cuban ritual music.
Third, the interview highlights the dual, and sometimes conflicted, position of batá drumming as both a profession and religious vocation in Cuba.
Fourth, Pryor's introduction reminds us that women's struggles for recognition and success play out differently in different contexts.
Socialist egalitarian feminism in Cuba and liberal democratic feminism in North America and Europe have met Lucumí values (which are far from uniform themselves) on different grounds and have produced very different situations for women musicians. One hopes that Pryor and other musicians and scholars will be inspired to do more work that explores these issues and adds to knowledge and debates about Afro-Cuban traditions.


Aguabella, Francisco. Francisco Aguabella y sus tambores batá: Oriki ara oko. Olm Records 10038 (1994).
Barreto, Emilio. Emilio Barreto presents Santísimo. Luz Productions CD001 (1996).
Cardona, Milton. Bembe. American Clave 1004 (1986).
Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba. Música Yoruba. Bembé Records 2010 (reissued 1995).
Grupo Afrocuba de Matanzas. Rituales Afrocubanos. EGREM 58 (1993).
———. Raíces Africanas/African roots. Shanachie 66009 (1998).
Grupo Ilu Aña. Sacred rhythms. Fundamento Productions 6120 (1995).
Iluyenkori. Percussions cubaines. Playasound 65084 (1992).
———. CubaTambours Batá: Hommage à Yemaya et Ochún. Playasound 65138 (1995).
Iroko (Bill Summers, Lázaro Galarraga). Iroko. VTL 010 (1992).
———. Ilu orisha. Interworld 924 (1996).
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. Ito iban echu: Sacred Yoruba music of Cuba. Qbadisc 9022 (1996).
Quinto, Pancho. En el solar, la cueva del humo. RW/Tonga 9704 (1997).
Ros, Lázaro. Olorun I. Xenophile/Green Linnet 4022 (1994).
Ros, Lázaro, and Olorun. Songs for Eleguá. Ashé Records 2001 (1996).
Sacred Rhythms of Cuban Santería. Smithsonian Folkways 40419 (1995).
Santos, John, and the Coro Folklórico Kindembo. Hacie el amor. Xenophile/Green Linnet 4034 (1996).
Spiro, Michael, and Mark Lamson. Bata ketu: A musical interplay of Cuba and Brazil. Bembé Records 2011 (1996).


Blank, Les. 1995. Sworn to the drum: A tribute to Francisco Aguabella. El Cerrito, Calif.: Flower Films.
Santana, Alfred. 1986. Voices of the gods. New York: Third World Newsreel.


Amira, John, and Steven Cornelius. 1992. The music of Santería: Traditional rhythms of the batá drums. Crown Point, Ind.: White Cliffs.
Boggs, Vernon. 1992. Salsiology: Afro-Cuban music and the evolution of salsa in New York City. New York: Greenwood Press.
Brandon, George. 1993. Santería from Africa to the New World: The dead sell memories. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Brown, David. 1989. Garden in the machine: Afro-Cuban sacred art and performance in urban New Jersey and New York. Ph.D. diss., Yale University.
Charry, Eric. 1996. A guide to the jembe. Percussive Notes 34, no. 2:66.
Cornelius, Steven. 1991. Drumming for the orishas: Reconstruction of tradition in New York City. In Essays on Cuban music: North American and Cuban perspectives, edited by Peter Manuel, 137156. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America.
Daniels, Donna. 1998. When the living is the prayer: African-based religious reverence in everyday life among women of color devotees in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ph.D. diss., Stanford University.
Delgado, Kevin. 1997. Negotiating the demands of culture: Batá drumming in San Diego. Master's thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.
Drake, Dawn. 1999. Personal communication with the author, February 5.
Drysdale, Michele. 1999. Personal communication with the author, March 21.
Fiol, Orlando. 1999. Personal communication with the author, March 26.
Hagedorn, Katherine. 1995. Anatomía del proceso folklórico: The “folkloricization” of Afro-Cuban religious performance in Cuba. Ph.D. diss., Brown University.
Hucks, Tracey. 1998. Approaching the god: An historical narrative of African Americans and Yoruba religion in the United States, 1959 to the present. Ph.D. diss., Harvard University.
Matory, J. Lorand. 1998. Yoruba imperialism and the Americanization of Africa: On the rhizomatic roots of the contemporary “Yoruba Revival” in the United States. Paper presented at Symposium: Religion outside the Institution, Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University, June 5–7, Princeton, New Jersey.
Moore, Robin. 1997. Nationalizing blackness: Afrocubanismo and artistic revolution in Havana, 19201940. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Marcuzzi, Michael. 1995. Personal communication with the author, October.
Ortiz, Fernando. 1952. Los tambores bimembrafonos-los batá. In Los instrumentos de la música Afrocubana 4: 205342. Havana: Ministerio de Educación.
Perkins, William Eric. 1995. The women of Ibbu Okun. CUBA Update April/June.
Porter, Don. 1999. Personal communication with the author, April 24.
Pryor, Andrea. 1999. The House of Añá: Women and Batá. CBMR Digest 12, no. 2.: 6–8.
Strubbe, Bill. 1999. Calling down the gods: Spiritual drums in the hands of women. Blue: The New Adventure Lifestyle 2, no. 1:47–48.
Vélez, Maria Teresa. 1994. Eya aranla: Overlapping perspectives on a Santería group. Diaspora 3, no. 3:289304.
———. 1996. The trade of an Afro-Cuban religious drummer: Felipe Garcia Villamil. Ph.D. diss., Wesleyan University.

The Story Of The BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Sound On Sound
The Story Of The BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Founded in 1958
Published in SOS April 2008
People : Artists/Engineers/Producers/Programmers

50 years ago this month, the most celebrated electronic music studio in the world was established. We trace the history of the Radiophonic Workshop, talking to the composers and technical staff who helped to create its unique body of work.
by Steve Marshall
I was 10 years old. As the last 'whoosh' of the Doctor Who theme dissolved into a wash of tape echo I sat transfixed by the light of the television, eagerly reading all of the end credits. "Wow!" I exclaimed. "I want to get a job in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop when I grow up!"
"I'm sorry, son," said my father. "You won't be able to do both."
Although it never felt like a 'job', I did eventually get to work in the Radiophonic Workshop. I was only there for three months, but I've never stopped going on about it. Wouldn't you too, if you'd been lucky enough to have worked in the most famous electronic music studio in history?

The story of the Radiophonic Workshop began half a century ago, in 1958.
Britain in the 1950s was a bleak place, as the nation struggled to rebuild itself after the devastation of war. Food rationing had continued right up until 1954, when bananas finally came back on sale; anything worth having was still in short supply. We now think of the '50s as the rock & roll years, but the UK charts for 1958 tell quite a different story. Elvis was there for a few weeks; so was Jerry Lee Lewis — but the chart is mostly dominated by the likes of Perry Como, Connie Francis and Vick Damone. It was a dull time for music, but things were about to get more interesting...

Defects Of The Brain
One of the few benefits of wartime had been that some women had an opportunity to work in jobs previously denied to them; Daphne Oram was one. Daphne had started working for the BBC as a 'music balancer' during the war, turning down a place at the Royal College of Music to do so. After her promotion to studio manager in the '50s, she began pestering the BBC to follow the lead of the French broadcasters, and to provide a facility for the production of electronic sound and musique concrète. Desmond Briscoe (1925-2006) was also a studio manager, with similar interests, so in 1957 the pair teamed up to produce some innovative programmes for the BBC Drama Department. Using borrowed test oscillators and tape-splicing techniques, they produced sounds that had never been heard before on the BBC.

Their nagging finally paid off, and in April 1958 Desmond and Daphne founded the Radiophonic Workshop in the BBC's Maida Vale Studios (a former ice-skating rink). They were joined later in the year by 'technical assistant' Dick Mills. Brian Hodgson came along in 1962 and he eventually ended up running the place. Brian adds: "Workshop was then a very popular word among theatre 'types', and it gave away the Drama Department origins. It was originally going to be called the Electrophonic Workshop, but it was discovered that 'electrophonic' referred to some sort of defect of the brain, so it had to be changed! A board was set up to see that the place was run properly. Unfortunately, one board member had a doctor friend, who advised that three months should be the maximum length of time that anyone could work there, as staying any longer could be injurious to their health; they'd go mad, or something. This problem recurred throughout the Workshop's history — just as a recruit was getting into the swing of things, they'd have to leave."

Daphne Oram was the first to fall foul of this rule. After three months in her new job, she was ordered back to work in a control room at Broadcasting House. But for some reason Desmond Briscoe was not required to leave: instead he was appointed as the Workshop's Senior Studio Manager. For the BBC's women, it seemed, the war was over. A lengthy and bitter row ensued, and eventually, Daphne left the BBC for good in 1959, moving to an oast-house that she'd bought in Kent and establishing her own Oramics Studios for Electronic Composition. She was replaced by Maddalena Fagandini.

Fag-ends & Lollipops
John Baker was another stalwart Radiophonic Workshop composer.
The Workshop's reputation grew over the next few years, and the ranks swelled with the addition of Brian Hodgson, Delia Derbyshire and jazz pianist John Baker. The equipment at their disposal was minimal, to say the least, as Brian recalls. "In the very beginning, Desmond had been given £2000 and the key to 'redundant plant' [the BBC's junk pile] and that was it! The place kept going for years on what we called 'fag-ends and lollipops'. 'Fag-ends' were the bits of unwanted rubbish that other departments had thrown away; 'lollipops' were the much rarer treats that were occasionally sent down to keep Desmond quiet. Like the vocoder, for instance: it was very nice, but we hadn't asked for one and didn't really need it. It was like the icing on a non-existent cake!"

The Workshop's equipment consisted merely of a lot of old tape recorders and a few pieces of test equipment that could make noises. The tape recorders could be used for echo, and reverb was also available — it came from an empty room downstairs with a microphone at one end and a speaker at the other. Maida Vale Studios is an unusual building, long and thin with one of its two floors below ground. The Radiophonic Workshop's rooms were at street level, spanning an extremely long corridor.
One room was occupied by a succession of dedicated engineers who had the tools and the know-how to fix all the broken rubbish that arrived; they also built special equipment to order. First was 'Dickie' Bird; then came Dave Young, and finally 'The Two Rays' (White and Riley). Dave Young started a tradition of visiting the nearby Portobello Market every week to buy bits and pieces for the Workshop, and this continued long after he'd left. In the '60s, a lot of ex-military kit from the war was still being sold off; Dave would return with items such as a genuine aircraft's joystick!

Much of the Workshop's output then was produced simply by using the techniques of musique concr te: natural sounds were recorded and manipulated on tape by editing, pitch-changing, and very often by reversing the tape. There was a standing joke that a Radiophonic composer could enthusiastically churn out original compositions for several years. When the inspiration ran out, all their old tracks could be re-used (and improved?) by playing them backwards!

Wobbulating The World
In the early '60s, synthesizers simply did not exist. Producer Joe Meek was using the monophonic, valve-operated Clavioline but the Radiophonic Workshop, oddly enough, never had one. What they did have, though, was all the test oscillators that they could beg, borrow or steal from other BBC departments. A method was devised for controlling 12 oscillators at a time, triggering them from a tiny home-built keyboard of recycled piano keys. Each oscillator could be independently tuned by means of a range switch and a chunky Bakelite frequency knob.

There was also the versatile 'wobbulator', a sine-wave oscillator that could be frequency modulated. It consisted of a very large metal box, with a few switches and one very large knob in the middle that could sweep the entire frequency range in one revolution. They were used in the BBC for 'calibrating reverb times in studios' apparently. And as far as the Workshop's electronic sound sources went, that was it!
Yet, curiously, it is the work produced in those early years that the Radiophonic Workshop's reputation still hangs on. The Doctor Who theme was first recorded in 1963, and still there are fans who insist that the original is the best of many versions made over the years. What's more, some of the sound effects made for the first series of Doctor Who are still being used! When the newly revamped Doctor Who appeared in 2005, hardcore fans recognised the original effects and wrote to Brian Hodgson: "How nice to hear the old original Dalek Control Room again, after all these years!"

Brian's 'Tardis' sound, dating from 1963, is also still used. "I spent a long time in planning the Tardis sound," says Brian. "I wanted a sound that seemed to be travelling in two directions at once; coming and going at the same time." The sound was actually made from the bare strings of a piano that had been dismantled. Brian scraped along some bass strings with his mum's front-door key, then set about processing the recordings, as he describes it, "with a lot of reverse feedback". (By this, I assume he means that tape echo was added, then the tape reversed so that it played backwards.) Eventually, Brian played the finished results to Dick Mills and Desmond Briscoe; at their insistence he added a slowly rising note, played on the wobbulator.

Working Up A Storm
Brian and Delia Derbyshire were, as he says, "best mates. We used to go on holiday together." In 1966, together with the founder of synth manufacturers EMS, Peter Zinovieff, they formed Unit Delta Plus, a band of sorts, and began performing on London's psychedelic underground scene. As one Workshop member remembers it, "At the end of their day at the BBC they used to race off to the West End, changing into their kaftans in the taxi." Unit Delta Plus split in 1967, but some of their gigs sound like crackers: how about the two-day 'Million Volt Light and Sound Rave' at the Roundhouse? I'm sorry to have missed that one! In 1969 the pair teamed up with David Vorhaus as the White Noise, releasing the cult classic album An Electric Storm.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Native American's Last Testament: Opera

A Native American's Last Testament: Opera
By Sasha Khokha
NPR Music

Weekend Edition Saturday, March 29, 2008 - Joseph Mondragon was just 8 years old when a man with an olive-green soldier's coat came to live in his family's basement in Monterey, Calif. The year was 1929.

"Grandma said she knew he was coming," Mondragon said. "She felt it; she had a premonition that he was coming to open the gates for our people and let the Caucasians know the Indian way, the history of our people, which nobody knew for a long time."

The man was John Peabody Harrington, a linguist from the Smithsonian who spent four decades gathering notes on native languages spoken from Alaska to South America. He'd come to record the oral history of Mondragon's dying grandmother, Ascencion Solorsano de Cervantes. She was a famous herbal healer and the last known fluent speaker of Mutsun, the language of the Amah Mutsun tribe that lived near California's central coast.

Today, her grandson Joseph is 86, and he's sharing his own memories of Ascencion Solorsano with a different sort of translator: an opera singer.

Mezzo-soprano Helene Joseph-Weil is a music professor at Fresno State. She first learned about Ascencion Solorsano 20 years ago, when she saw a picture of her in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"I was so moved by it," Joseph-Weil says. "And there was something about her photo that just mesmerized me, that I suddenly said: 'I have to sing her. How can I sing her?'"

Along with award-winning composer Benjamin Boone, a fellow Fresno State professor, she is working to put Ascencion Solorsano's oral history into a piece called Ascencion. They're calling it an "ethno-historical cantata."

"She trusted Harrington," Joseph-Weil says. "She said in one of our direct quotes to him it's a curious thing that the Americans waited until all those that are dead and finished to find out about the tribes and their language, and they just scribbled down any old thing. But she said, 'Together, you and I are going to make that right.'"

In a scene called "Lamentation," Boone tries to express the horror of Native American genocide through wide leaps in the choral parts — dramatic sounds that are almost discordant.

The work has won the praise of historians and Native American scholars like University of California-Davis professor Martha Macri. She's spearheading an effort to digitize the oral histories Harrington collected. She says that setting these histories to opera is an innovative idea — and one that she thinks Joseph-Weil has handled respectfully.

"It's not someone trying to imitate native culture and pretend," Macri says. "She has really taken her great respect and regard for Ascension and translated it into an art form that is her art form. It can seem quite incongruous, but in fact she's presenting Ascension's life and words to an audience that might not otherwise come across it."

For the song of Ascencion Solorsano's death, Joseph-Weil and Boone made the first recording of the bells at Mission San Juan Bautista in California, and arranged them for a chorus. Ascencion Solorsano was buried at the Mission cemetery, home to some 4,000 Native American graves from different tribes.

Ascencion Solorsano's descendents say they hope the new cantata will help people learn about her tribe. Today, there are some 600 members, and they're still struggling for federal recognition.

British electronic musician Delia Derbyshire

A great find from Audio Lemon:

Amazing 1969 electronica pop from electronic musician/composer Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001) as part of the group White Noise. "Love Without Sound" has a startlingly contemporary sound to it, basically sounding like 90s-2000s trip-hop minus the fat beats and contemporary recording technology. This was all done the hard way, with an X-acto knife, tape loops, primitive synthesizers:

And this clip of her beat matching reel to reel loops:

Friday, March 28, 2008

New Orleans Musician Glen David Andrews


BackTalk with Glen David Andrews

By John Swenson

The late January afternoon shadows shiver across the flagstones on Jackson Square as a crowd of about 50 tourists in winter clothes passively watches an unlikely collection of musicians—a chubby, red-faced schoolboy trumpeter, a trombone player, tuba player, trap drummer and stand-up bassist—huff through a ragtag version of “Saints.” Glen David Andrews arrives with his trombone case slung over his shoulder, sits next to the kid trumpeter and transforms this tableau into an impromptu party.

During “I Have a Friend in Jesus,” Andrews shoulders his trombone and sends a bolt of electricity through the crowd with a solo that corkscrews in intensity as he throws in four and eight bar quotes from sources including horseracing’s “Call To Post.”

Andrews signals the other trombonist to solo, then shows the trumpeter how to comp under the solo. Andrews starts singing “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” adding verses from “I Hear You Knockin’” and “Blueberry Hill.” Suddenly the tourists are doing that spasmodic tourist dance, the involuntary shuffle, and a handful of homeless men who’ve been watching in silence start dancing around and gesturing as if they’re part of the entertainment. Andrews encourages the kid to sing “New Orleans Street Parade” and does a scat vocal call-and-response, making the kid take another chorus. Andrews then plays the opening strains of “Georgia,” but when he starts to sing, he changes it to “Louisiana.” The crowd goes nuts, filling the tip bucket with paper money, and Andrews takes a bow.

Andrews has been playing in this exact spot since he was younger than that red-faced trumpeter, learning from the legendary Tuba Fats. His career has taken him through the Lil’ Rascals Brass Band, the New Birth Brass Band and some spectacular moments in the Andrews Family Band along with his cousins James and Troy Andrews. As part of the new breed of brass band musicians, he wrote the refrain “Gimme a dime /I only got eight,” which has become a staple of the new brass band repertoire.

Since Katrina, Andrews has been homeless—he’s currently sleeping in his uncle’s FEMA trailer—and has turned into an outspoken critic of street violence, the slow pace of the recovery and police crackdowns on second line parades. “I got a lot to play,” he says, “and a lot to say!”

What may even be more interesting about his post-Katrina persona, though, is that Andrews has moved away from his role as one of the young turks of the new brass band movement and embraced traditional brass band music. His band, Glen David Andrews and the Lazy Six, plays the old school New Orleans jazz of his ancestors in regular gigs at Preservation Hall and Mid City Lanes Rock ’n’ Bowl.

It’s interesting to see that you still play in Jackson Square.
I like to play in Jackson Square. That’s what I’m interested in doing, teaching people. Nobody’s teaching the traditional music. The only way you can really hear the traditional music is through the Treme Brass Band or at Preservation Hall.

You were recently arrested for second lining in the Treme, which brought attention to the pressure being applied by the police to the second line tradition.
You have to just do it. They shouldn’t even ask for permission. I’ve been second lining all my life and I’m going to keep on doing it. We paraded in the Treme yesterday for about three hours. Nobody bothered us.

You’ve been an effective spokesperson for a lot of post-Katrina issues. Unfortunately, if you say what’s on your mind, you’re branded as a troublemaker. Look at what happened to Cyril Neville.
He was right to say what he said. He said we didn’t leave New Orleans, New Orleans kicked us out. On one hand the city wants to use you to promote it, “Come to New Orleans to hear the great music,” but on the other hand there’s no place for you here.

It’s like the Musicians’ Village, which I have a real problem with. And not just because they turned me down for a house. They turned down most of the musicians who applied, most of the brass band members. The only people who are qualifying are people with good credit, older people with social security and folks like that. How does that help us, really? How are you supposed to have good credit when you’re wiped out, lost all your possessions and are living in somebody else’s trailer? Even if I had good credit, if I could get a loan from a bank, what do I want to live in the Ninth Ward for, anyway? I grew up in the real Musicians’ Village, Treme. I want to live in the real Musicians’ Village.

A lot of the older people have been sidelined since Katrina. You didn’t have to drown to be kept from being able to do what you were doing before. It seems like a big part of the social infrastructure that kept the traditional brass bands going is just gone.

They ran them off. I used to talk to [Olympia’s] Doc Watson all my days. I would just call him and talk to him; he ain’t here to do that anymore. There’s no Tuba Fats left in the Sixth Ward. Tuba Fats taught everybody and not just about the music. He took us to London every year to play, and he took us to Amsterdam.
I talk to Irvin Mayfield a lot. He says, “They know what you’re trying to do. They don’t like people that speak out.” You go against the grain, they stay away from you. Everything’s a clique. That’s why the city’s in the trouble it’s in.

With so many of the older keepers of the flame out of commission or out of the city, it falls on younger guys like you not only symbolize the new blood in the brass band sound, but now you’ve got to uphold the old tradition, too.
When I saw the Olympia Brass Band for the first time I was like six, seven years old. I knew I wanted to be a part of that. I knew when I saw James (Andrews) at the World’s Fair I knew I was going to be playing with him. I grew up with it in the Treme, it was all around me. Ironing Board Sam. James Black lived around the corner. I grew up with the Olympia, the Pinstripe band all my life, and I realize that’s my niche. I love to sing the old tunes. Every Sunday when I get on the stand at Preservation Hall, I get a chill.

What’s your ideal repertoire for playing there?
I always try to play some Bunk Johnson, some Punch Miller, some Red Allen.

At places like Fritzel’s they play traditional jazz like classical music, note for note reproductions.
I’ve only seen one black musician play there in the 27 years of my life and that was Gregg Stafford. The best place you’re going to get down there [on Bourbon Street] is the Maison Bourbon; Jamil Sharif is there to commemorate the traditional music. That’s the thing about the tradition. You’ve got to know “Sunny Side of the Street” before you can know “Gimme a Dime.” You’ve got to know the tradition. And that’s what’s happening with these new brass bands. It’s the same thing with these Indian chiefs. Everybody wants to be the Big Chief now. There’s like 23 chiefs now; nobody wants to start off being the Spyboy.

How did you learn the tradition?
They gave me a horn when I was like 13 and said, “Do this” and I’ve been doing this ever since. I used to come by Tuba Fats and he’d have me play the bass drum. He’d say, “Sit there and do this.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was training me. My brothers, James and Troy Andrews, Nicholas Payton, they were my earliest influences. They all played together in brass bands. Kerwin James, who just passed away, he was there. It all started there in the Sixth Ward. We were a close family, 15 children, me and my cousins. Eight of them are named Glen Andrews. You know the New Kids Brass Band? Well, that’s all my cousin and brother’s children. Three of them in the band are named Glen Andrews. So the three of them and me and my cousin with the Rebirth, we went to channel 4 about two months ago. Everybody is signing in as Glen Andrews. The security guard says, “I don’t know if you take security seriously or not, but this is not funny.” So we all get to pulling out our IDs.

So you see your role now, at 27 years old, as an older guy passing along the tradition?
People don’t respect the tradition. The young people don’t seem to respect much. If I’m playing at the Rock ’n’ Bowl, everybody wears suits and ties. Suits and ties. At Preservation Hall, if you don’t come out there with a coat and tie, you can go home. You could be the tuba player, somebody I need. If you don’t come with a suit and tie, you can go home. Tuba Fats told me that’s the way you run a band. You’ve got to pay them, make sure everybody’s looking good and professional and sounding good. Otherwise it’s going to fall on you.

You were also part of the brass band new wave with the Rascals and New Birth.
I did the song “Gimme a Dime, I only got 8” with New Birth. But that ain’t what I want to do. I’m through with that. The new shit dishes the old folks.

So you put that aside.
It’s violence. It’s not music. It’s one chord over the same groove over and over. No offense to the Hot 8. My brother Derek started that band. No offense to the Soul Rebels. I like all those people as people. I don’t want to listen to that. “That’s the street thing,” they say. “I’m trying to do something new.” How the hell are you going to do that if you don’t know where it came from? Do you know “Palm Court Strut?” Do you know who Danny Barker was? You need to find out about some of these things. You need to go by George Buck and get you a couple of them records.

You’ve been under a lot of psychological stress over the last couple of years…
I look at it that I am actually homeless. I’m living in my uncle’s trailer. If I didn’t have the help of my family, if I was a weak-minded person, I’d be back on drugs. I’d most likely have killed myself by now. I look out the door and there’s a woman across the street with her two babies sleeping in the outdoors. That shit breaks my heart, but I know God and I know God is merciful. I know he’ll look down on me and give me the courage and strength to keep going.

You were relocated to Texas for a while…
I was in Houston for six months but I left. I was stressed. They don’t welcome us there. They have an ad campaign right now there encouraging all the people in Houston to buy a gun to protect themselves from those people from New Orleans. Those people. They did have that bunch of assholes that went out there killing everybody, but that doesn’t represent the rest of us.

What do you think the future is for brass band music?
There’s not enough cooperation among the younger brass band players. All the white players stick together. All these so-called retro jazz bands, I don’t hear anything I like down on Frenchmen Street outside of Snug Harbor except if it’s John Boutte. It’s sad.

If you’re going to play the traditional music do it the right way. The Storyville Stompers. They’re doing traditional music the right way. Rebirth works so hard and travels up and down that road, so they’re going to survive. Them and the Dozen are all right. Not all the individuals in those bands are all right financially, but those bands are all right as far as work. But I’ve got to worry about myself.

Everybody compares me to Troy and James, but Troy and James are working. I guess I’m just as good as them; I just don’t get as much work. The last 15 years of my career, I’ve spent backing up. I backed Troy, I backed James, I backed the New Birth. The time has come for me to step out on my own. Going on this trip to Austin is a big step for me.

I’m a musician. I don’t build homes. I don’t paint. I don’t know how to paint. I don’t know nothing about changing tires. But I can sing and that’s what I want to do. If I sit in that trailer, I’ll go crazy.