Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sound Artist/Composer Bruce Odland

Photos and video at the Christian Science Monitor

A sound artist hears symphonies in ambient noise
Bruce Odland finds meaning in life's aural flotsam and jetsam – and it's too valuable to tune out completely with iPod or radio or daydream.
By Stacy Teicher Khadaroo | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

from the May 20, 2008 edition

Medford, Mass. - Bruce Odland is an artist whose medium is sound. Amid a culture dominated by the eyes, he's pleading with us to open our ears.

He's not a musician in the traditional sense, though his tousled hair and dramatic gestures suggest a certain stage presence. He's a master of the sea of natural and man-made sound – the aural flotsam and jetsam that most of us scarcely pay attention to. The roar of jets, the screech of brakes, the whoosh of wind between two buildings: We may block them out with iPods or the radio or our daydreams, background noises heard yet not registered, and we might even consider this ignorance to be bliss.

But that kind of bliss has a price, suggests Mr. Odland, whose otherworldly sensibility builds mental constructs out of every sound.

"What would it be like if we paid attention to the sounds that we make as a culture?" he muses. "We spend all our time shutting it out because, frankly, our soundscape is a total accident – it's very harsh and very unfriendly to humans."

The longtime composer and "sonic thinker" wants people to question their audible world – and perhaps even enjoy some of those accidental sounds transformed into a type of music.

The unintentional noises – the motors, ventilators, disc drives – have meaning, he says. But to absorb that meaning, we have to learn again to listen.

• • •

The first step: Close your eyes.

That's what Odland has people do in "ear yoga" workshops – exercises to help "shake off the tension of everyday hyperaccelerated consumer life." He wants them to get in touch with their inner hunter-gatherers – to replace the modern survival skill of blocking noise with a reawakened sensitivity to sound.

He has people make an identifying sound – a chirp or a chuckle, for instance – and then form a circle in the room, using only their ears. They are amazed at how precisely they can do this without bumping into each other, he says.

Over the course of a few months, nearly 100 college students, professors, and local children turned on their ears in such workshops as they prepared to collaborate with him on "Harmony in the Age of Noise" – a sound-art installation at Tufts University coordinated by anthropology professor David Guss.

Odland gave participants digital recorders and asked them to follow their ears; to fan out across campus or in their neighborhoods to create "sound maps" wherever they were most intrigued.

The captured acoustics were to become Odland's palette for creating the Tufts installation.

Sarah Moshontz de la Rocha, the student blogger for the project (, decided to make "spiritual sound maps." She recorded at a Krishna temple and a healing drum circle in Boston. "It's really incredible the way [Odland] sort of opens you up to a soundscape," she says.

• • •

On the pristine Tufts campus, Tisch Library is built into a hill, so you can walk right onto its roof and see the Boston skyline in the distance. Campus tours end here. And for the next three months, visitors will have a chance to take a very different kind of tour – by listening.

A bright blue acoustic dome, supported by wooden parabolic arches, shelters an interactive sound dial. To Odland, the horizontal dial resting on a hip-high pole looks like the steering wheel for a spaceship. The unique computer interface, which he designed with Tufts engineering students, has no buttons or markings on its smooth surface. Turning it triggers each sound-map recording for however long the dial is held in a given position.

On the sound sculpture's opening day in April, the first bemused "drivers" huddled around the dial and gently placed their palms on it. They heard the rumble of a subway car fill the dome and felt the structure's wooden floor vibrate in response. They turned the dial and suddenly the drip-drip of a sink took over. Then singing. A squawking bird. Voices. All of them local sounds.

"It's built for hand-ear coordination," Odland says.

But he did make concessions to the visual appetite: Like a mood ring, the dial takes on a red glow when touched. In the center of the dial, a small lens reveals videos corresponding to the sounds. "In our culture, seeing is believing," he says begrudgingly.

• • •

The "hey wait a minute moment" that steered Odland toward the significance of the culture's unintentional sounds came when he was a young composer living in Colorado in 1976.

A state senator there had commissioned a composition from him, and as they talked in the senator's home, classical music played in the background. Through the window, they watched workers in the distance creating an open-pit coal mine.

"[The mine] would totally ruin his land, and Beethoven was the soundtrack," Odland exclaims, his indignation still strong. Suddenly the music of Europe was inextricably linked with "the devastation of our environment in the Western hemisphere.... I thought to myself, maybe we're on the wrong track here ... this huge acceleration of using more power than we have.... Where is the counterpoint to that headlong rush?"

That question led him to recordings in nature. Then he turned to the study of cities.

When you close your eyes and open your ears in a city or even a small town, "you're listening to the culture's use of fossil fuels," he says – and a wasteful use at that.

But since he finds fossil-fueled noises so disturbing (on his website he uses phrases like "mind-deranging" and "howl of cultural pain,") why does he want people to listen more?

"I see this as a way to get information that we're missing," he says. "We shut it out, we put in our iPod [earphones] ... we roll up the windows and turn on the air conditioning. Each one of these moves separates us from our environment and from the results of our own actions."

Odland's work fits into "a whole movement of acoustic ecology, to make people more aware of sound and not just have sound become buzzers and cellphone rings and backing-up trucks," says fellow sound-artist Liz Phillips, who teaches about interactive media at the State University of New York at Purchase.

• • •

To counterbalance the harsh urban sounds that inevitably became part of the Tufts sound sculpture, Odland also incorporated a tube that draws in noise from a busy intersection on the edge of campus and harmonizes it in the key of E. The resulting "music" is what plays through the dome's speakers by default when no-one is touching the dial.

Odland compares the tube to the didgeridoo – a drone pipe of Australian aborigines – "except for instead of being played by a human," he explains, "it's being played by Boston Avenue."

He's channeled sound this way before, in some of the world's noisiest cities.

Odland and longtime creative partner Sam Auinger "harmonically retuned" part of New York's World Financial Center Plaza in 2004. (They call themselves sonic alchemists.) Passers-by could sit on cube-shaped speakers that brought together the transformed sounds of ferryboats, jets, birds, and waves.

"People just gathered around that and relaxed," Odland says.

"The whole idea is to hear the city as a symphony and restore some balance in your senses."

Friday, May 30, 2008

Rebirth Brass Band celebrates 25 years

Story including photos at the New Orleans Times-Picayune/

Rebirth Brass Band celebrates 25 years of blowing its horns
Posted by amaloney May 29, 2008 16:30PM

Rebirth Brass Band's 25th Anniversary

. . . . . . .

It was a Tuesday night, and Phil and Keith Frazier were at the Maple Leaf Bar, where they have played every week for 18 years with the Rebirth Brass Band. Instead of performing, however, they were reminiscing about the past 25 years of Rebirth. It took them a while to get started, but once the stories started flowing, they didn't stop.

Their favorite touring partner?

"Ani, " Phil said.

As in Ani DiFranco, the dreadlocks-sporting, righteous babe, acoustic-guitar-playing Ani?

"That's our girl!" exclaimed Phil, as he went on to describe Rebirth's six-week tour opening for the indie-rock heroine. DiFranco's audiences, more in tune with anti-war chants than with brass band beats, "didn't know what was coming, " Keith said.

"And then we'd just hit 'em with it, " Phil said.

They played for more than 10,000 people at Red Rocks in Colorado -- "That was the show, " Phil said -- and opened for the Grateful Dead in 1989, "when Jerry Garcia was still around -- cool guy, " he said.

The Rebirth Brass Band has been playing at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street just about every Tuesday night for nearly 20 years.

One summer in the 1980s, they traveled the same European festival circuit as a slew of jazz legends, and several times shared a hotel floor with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakely.

At the North Sea Jazz Festival, they crashed the end of a James Brown concert. "He sang the last note, and we busted through the crowd. People were like, 'What is this?' " Keith said.

"We went to Africa for six weeks, " Phil said.

"We went to Syria -- by mistake, " Keith added.

After 20 European tours, 14 albums, four tours of Japan and gigs in 46 states, these guys have seen a lot.

Since emerging in the early 1980s with their street-infused brand of brass band music, Rebirth has become a New Orleans institution, still as welcome and active at home as they are around the world. The band is celebrating its 25th anniversary tonight and tomorrow with two shows at the Howlin' Wolf, which will feature nearly all of the band's 28 members, past and present. They released an anniversary CD, titled simply "25, " in April.

They are both global ambassadors for New Orleans and second-line favorites in New Orleans. And they show no signs of slowing down.

. . . . . . .

The band officially formed in 1983, growing out of the Joseph S. Clark Senior High School marching band, but the Fraziers say Rebirth's story really began on the streets of Treme. Along with founding member Kermit Ruffins, who left the band in 1992 to forge his own career, both the Fraziers played music from an early age. The brothers were encouraged by both their mother, Barbara Frazier, who played gospel piano, and by the vibrant musical culture of the Treme neighborhood.

Phil Frazier, leader of the Rebirth Brass Band, and his brother Keith are the only members to have been with the band for 25 years.

While Keith started out on baritone horn in the seventh grade, Phil, who had been playing trombone since the fourth grade, soon found his passion in the tuba.

"I switched to tuba in high school because it was calling me.

"I would go to bed with the tuba, " he said, laughing, then added, "I don't do that anymore."

The newly formed band cut its first album with 1984's "Here To Stay." Perhaps, at the time, only the players knew how apt that debut title would prove to be.

Professionally, the group was inspired by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which, at the time, had achieved the greatest crossover appeal of any New Orleans brass ensemble. But musically, they were most inspired by the second-line tradition, street beats and the funky abandon of Treme. It was that quality they sought to re-create on their albums and in shows, and it is ultimately what has made them so enduring.

"We came along and did a lot of street stuff, " Keith said. "We took the street, and brought it to the stage."

Their early agent, Allison Minor, told them they'd find bigger audiences abroad than in the United States, and sent them to Europe. The intense touring in foreign lands, catching -- and sometimes missing -- trains, "made us grow up faster, " Phil said.

"We were so young, too, " Keith said. "We didn't know what the hell we were doing."

. . . . . . .

At 8:30 p.m., the Maple Leaf courtyard was virtually empty as the brothers Frazier recounted tales from the past quarter-century. A middle-aged African-American couple, dressed for some place fancier than the Maple Leaf, wandered up to the bar next to the courtyard and looked around expectantly.

"Excuse me, " the woman said to Phil. "What's the name of the band tonight?"

"Rebirth, " he said.

"Rebirth, OK, " said the woman, nodding to her husband, who nodded back. The couple was visiting from Atlanta, they said, and had heard about the band from friends from New Orleans.

Phil turned to his brother and flashed a precocious grin. "Ohhhh, I love getting new people!" he exclaimed.

Phil directed the couple to the front bar, telling them to say that "King Phil" had sent them. They looked at him skeptically, but smiled and disappeared toward the front.

"We call them Rebirth virgins, " Keith said. "They listen, and they're like, 'Oh my God, where has this music been my whole life?' "

The couple returned a few minutes later, drinks in hand. They laughed and said to Phil, "You really are the king!" and went into the courtyard.

After fine-tuning their touring chops in Europe, Rebirth conquered the United States, too. San Francisco and New York are among their favorite cities, where their venues often sell out. Amsterdam, they said, remains their favorite locale outside of New Orleans.

"It's so like New Orleans, " Keith said.

In their recording history, which includes 14 full-length albums and countless guest appearances, they have partnered with Robbie Roberston of The Band, Soulja Slim and Harry Connick Jr. Their favorite studio collaboration? Playing "Whole Lotta Loving" with Lenny Kravitz, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis and Maceo Parker on the album "Going Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino."

"We just gelled like that, instantly, " Phil said. "It was funky."

. . . . . . .

Despite the band's renown, if there's one thing that has stayed with Rebirth over the past quarter-century, it is the street.

The group experienced the inevitable backlash that comes with fame after their first decade of international and domestic touring, and today many locals complain that the long-running Tuesday night gig at the Maple Leaf has become a reservoir for college students and bourgeois Uptowners. But few can deny that Rebirth is still a band of the people.

When not touring, the band plays second-lines nearly every Sunday, and the band's members have kept their roots in New Orleans. Snare drum player Derrick Tabb, who has been with Rebirth 12 years, recently started the organization Roots of Music, which conducts after-school music classes for children.

What drives the Fraziers to keep playing after so long is not money or fame, they said, but the joy of bringing music to the people.

"I love making people happy, " Phil said. "I love giving people my all. If I'm not doing anything, I'm depressed."

"We just dealt with (the criticism), " Keith said. "We told people, 'This is what happens when you go from underground to being famous. It doesn't change who you are.' "

Now, Phil, 42, is a grandfather, and Keith will hit the four-decade mark in October, though he says, "I still feel 18."

Though they say playing music makes them feel young, they have embraced the avuncular role they play with the band's younger members, such as Chadrick Honore, who is 20.

"I could be his father, " Phil said in disbelief, which turned promptly to knee-slapping laughter. "Man, that's some crazy s- - -!"

Keith continued: "I really love to tell them what to expect in life, especially as a musician. It makes you feel good to be able to pass on that stuff."

Their only rule for the band, they say, is no fighting with one another. Everything else is met with New Orleans-style laissez faire. The Fraziers advise their younger band mates on keeping track of their finances and having a good time while paying mind to their image, which is, by extension, the band's image and the city's image.

"We got New Orleans on our shoulders, " Keith said.

Their most important words of wisdom?

"Don't take anything for granted, " Keith said. "Until you leave here, you don't understand what it's like, so don't take it for granted. Just play like it's your last time every time."

David Byrne Uses Building as Orchestra

From the New York Times; see video at the Times' page here:
May 30, 2008
David Byrne’s New Band, With Architectural Solos

THE symphony of Manhattan Island, composed and performed fortissimo daily by garbage trucks, car speakers, I-beam bolters, bus brakes, warped manhole covers, knocking radiators, people yelling from high windows and the blaring television that now greets you in the back of a taxi, is the kind of music people would pay good money to be able to silence, if only there were a switch.

The other day, in a paint-peeling hangar of a room at the foot of the island, David Byrne, the artist and musician, placed his finger on a switch that did exactly the opposite: it made such music on purpose. The switch was a white key on the bass end of a beat-up Weaver pump organ that was practically the only thing sitting inside the old Great Hall of the Battery Maritime Building, a 99-year-old former ferry terminal at the end of Whitehall Street that has sat mostly dormant for more than a half-century.

The organ’s innards had been replaced with relays and wires and light blue air hoses. And when the key was pressed, a 110-volt motor strapped to a girder high up in the room’s ceiling began to vibrate, essentially playing the girder and producing a deafening low hum — like one of the tuba tones played by the mother ship in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Or, if you were less charitably inclined, like a truck on Canal Street with a loose muffler. Mr. Byrne ran his fingers up the keyboard, causing more hums and whines, moans and plunks and clinks until he came to a key that seemed to do nothing.

“We’re not getting any register on that bottom one anymore,” he said, sending two artist-technicians up onto a scaffold to figure out why a certain magnetic knocker was not turning one of the room’s giant Corinthian columns — topped by upended, gaping dolphins — into a kind of architectural castanet.

The project Mr. Byrne has created with support from the public-art organization Creative Time is a kind of twist on the projects Creative Time has brought into being since it started helping artists use the city as a canvas in 1974. Often the organization finds dilapidated, neglected, historically rich buildings, and artists create installations inside, as the British artist Mike Nelson did last year when he turned a wing of the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side into a dimly lighted labyrinth. The ferry-terminal project, called, appropriately enough, “Playing the Building,” opens at noon on Saturday.

But in the case of Mr. Byrne — a founder of the Talking Heads who has been a visual artist as long as he has been a musician and producer — the Beaux-Arts terminal itself has become the installation, or at least a stunning, 9,000-square-foot part of it that once served as a soaring waiting room for passengers who came there to board ferries bound for South Brooklyn. The building has been one of those glorious Manhattan antiques caught in a decades-long time warp, not used for major ferry service since 1938. Plans to have it house everything from a children’s museum to a dance troupe to even Creative Time’s offices have fallen through over the years, and now a developer has been chosen to rehabilitate the terminal and build a hotel atop it.

At least for the next two and a half months, though, the building will simply serve as a gargantuan cast-iron orchestra. Besides being fitted with several motors, which produce the bass sounds by vibrating a set of girders that once supported a stained-glass skylight in the 40-foot-high ceiling, the organ is attached to a pump that blows air through a tangle of hoses. These hoses snake into the huge room’s old water and heating pipes and conduits, making primitive flute sounds. And then there are more than a dozen spring-loaded solenoids, attached like woodpeckers to the columns and even to a linebacker-size radiator that emits a surprisingly sonorous tone when struck in just the right place with a metal rod.

When you get both hands busy on the keyboard — as anyone who comes to see the work will be allowed to do — the room roars and clatters to life, seeming to harbor an invisible band playing something written by Philip Glass in collaboration with the Stooges, a Japanese sho virtuoso and a kitchen full of 3-year-olds with pots and ladles.

Working on the project recently in his SoHo studio, Mr. Byrne said he had generally avoided music-related art projects because he did not want his reputation as a musician to become confused with such work.

But when he was invited several years ago to propose a piece for Fargfabriken, a gallery space in a former factory in Stockholm, he began thinking about how to turn a building into an instrument. (One of his ideas for the Swedish project was to build a huge microwave oven inside the hall.) He had inherited the out-of-tune pump organ from a friend who was moving out of his print studio in the meatpacking district. And so Mr. Byrne used the organ to create the first version of “Playing the Building” in 2005.

Because he generally likes to distance his art from his music, Mr. Byrne has not composed pieces for the building-organ and does not plan to play it publicly. But he said he hoped the project would say something about the direction of popular music.

“I’m not suggesting people abandon musical instruments and start playing their cars and apartments, but I do think the reign of music as a commodity made only by professionals might be winding down,” he said in a discussion about the piece with Anne Pasternak, the project’s curator and Creative Time’s president. “The imminent demise of the large record companies as gatekeepers of the world’s popular music is a good thing, for the most part.”

The music that will soon be heard from the maritime building’s infrastructure and the organ, with assistance from a stream of visitors over the summer, is essentially “authorless,” but “strongly directed,” he said.

With only four days left before the doors opened, Mr. Byrne and two people who helped build the piece, Mark McNamara and Justin Downs, were working hard one recent afternoon to arrange the organ’s keyboard so that it played the building roughly from low notes to high — very roughly. (“Nobody’s going to be able to play Bach on it,” Mr. Byrne said.)

A white rubber mallet, useful early on for determining the lyrical quality of rusty steam pipes and girders, lay atop the organ. And even with the sun streaming through the room’s expansive skylight, there was an element of gothic ghostliness about the setup, a prim-looking church organ commanding an empty waiting room. (By way of unintentional back story, to add a little extra eeriness, in 1885 The New York Times reported that J. O. Weaver, a member of the family that owned the Weaver Organ Manufacturing Company of York, Pa., became “violently deranged” in a Dallas hotel room and committed suicide by cutting his throat “from ear to ear” with a razor.)

Mr. Byrne, wearing a straw fedora with a feather stuck in the band, seemed to grow momentarily bored with architectural harmonies and took a visitor through a doorway into a shadowy hall that led to a seemingly darker history for the building: two empty meat lockers and a tiled room with a drain that might have been an abattoir, perhaps once used for supplying meat to Governors Island, whose ferry leaves from the slips below.

“There’s some really weird stuff back here,” he said.

Then he grabbed his backpack and headed out to another appointment uptown, by means of that weirdest and most musical New York City instrument of all, the subway.

“Playing the Building” opens on Saturday at noon and will continue on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from noon to 6 p.m., through Aug. 10 at the Battery Maritime Building, 10 South Street, Lower Manhattan; (212) 206-6674 or Admission is free.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jake Mandell's Tonedeaf Test

A six-minute test to evaluate your musical memory and pitch awareness: here.

Uncontacted Amazon tribe photographed


Uncontacted Amazon tribe photographed
Images show Indians painted bright red, brandishing bows and arrows
By Stuart Grudgings
updated 4:38 p.m. PT, Thurs., May. 29, 2008

RIO DE JANEIRO - Amazon Indians from one of the world's last uncontacted tribes have been photographed from the air, with striking images released on Thursday showing them painted bright red and brandishing bows and arrows.

The photographs of the tribe near the border between Brazil and Peru are rare evidence that such groups exist. A Brazilian official involved in the expedition said many of them are in increasing danger from illegal logging.

"What is happening in this region is a monumental crime against the natural world, the tribes, the fauna and is further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the 'civilized' ones, treat the world," Jose Carlos Meirelles was quoted as saying in a statement by the Survival International group.

One of the pictures, which can be seen on Survival International's Web site (, shows two Indian men covered in bright red pigment poised to fire arrows at the aircraft while another Indian looks on.

Another photo shows about 15 Indians near thatched huts, some of them also preparing to fire arrows at the aircraft.

"The world needs to wake up to this, and ensure that their territory is protected in accordance with international law. Otherwise, they will soon be made extinct," said Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International, which supports tribal people around the world.

Of more than 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide, more than half live in either Brazil or Peru, Survival International says. It says all are in grave danger of being forced off their land, killed and ravaged by new diseases.

Creepy Robot Drummer

Ladies and Gentlemen, Freddy Fantastico:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Baroque Music transforms kids and towns in remote area of Bolivia

Here at the Christian Science Monitor

Music transforms kids and towns in remote area of Bolivia
Inspired by a biannual baroque festival and the legacy of missionaries, young people join choirs and take up the violin and Vivaldi in parishes across the country's eastern lowlands.
By Sara Miller Llana | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

from the May 12, 2008 edition

San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia - Life moves slowly in this town deep in the jungle of Bolivia, 280 miles from the nearest city, where most streets are swaths of red earth, money is made off the land, and TV, for those who own one, is not an after-dinner ritual.

It is not the kind of place one would normally seek out high culture.

But on a recent evening, off the neatly manicured central plaza, the sonatas of Vivaldi and Haydn pour from the town's imposing cathedral. Even more unusual is who is crowding many of the pews: sneaker-clad youths. They are not here under the duress of some imperious teacher. They're eagerly absorbing the sounds of string and wind instruments redounding through the wood-beamed church.

Their rapt attention is one of the most visible legacies of the International Festival of Renaissance and American Baroque Music, which may be leaving as big a mark on the small towns of eastern Bolivia as anything since the Jesuit missionaries 300 years ago. Perhaps in few places on earth is music transforming the lives of a new generation more than in this remote low-land section of South America.

The biennial baroque festival, which wrapped up last week, draws artists from across the globe who perform a repertoire of classical music that always includes at least one piece from the impressive, sacred archive, begun by the missionaries in the 17th century. The festival also attracts well-heeled tourists from Argentina, Chile, the US, and Europe.

But, more important, it has spurred many of the region's kids to gravitate toward the world of Bach and bass clefs. In recent years, some 2,500 youths from area towns, many of them indigenous, have enrolled in music schools, choruses, and orchestras. Some orchestras are fledgling, set up in church basements with members who still can't read notes. Others have begun to produce first-rate musicians.

Music has brought a sense of hope and revival here the way sports do in inner-city America. While American kids might dream of being the next LeBron James, here it is Boccherini and the anonymous 17th century composers who touched the lives of their ancestors.

"There has been a boom in orchestras in all of these mission towns," says Father Andreas Holl, a Franciscan priest originally from Austria whose church in San Ignacio de Velasco started a 35-member chorus for the community's neediest children last year. "It's not just to pass the time, it is to fill them with something more. If we teach them to be mechanics, they can learn to be good mechanics. But music teaches them to express themselves, and perhaps that way, they learn to be nonviolent."

• • •

On a Thursday afternoon, Adelina Anori Cunanguira rushes to rehearsal with the children's orchestra she conducts, ahead of their performance in the festival. The kids, who range in age from 7 to late teens, run through the church grounds in sandals, their instruments dangling at their sides. But as Ms. Anori Cunanguira directs them through a piece by Italian composer G.B. Bassani, recovered from the archives in the nearby town of Santa Ana, they settle down. "Don't forget to be here at 1 p.m. tomorrow," she reminds them after practice. "I want you to concentrate, and look at the director. Good luck."

Anori Cunanguira epitomizes the success that music has brought to the mission towns. A demure woman in her late 20s, she comes from the indigenous town of Urubicha, where a music school was set up in the mid-1990s as the Chiquitos Missions Festival, as the baroque event is known, was born.

She had never studied music, but her father played the guitar and trumpet. Yet all her friends were joining, and, like any 16-year-old, she didn't want to miss out. Since then, she has mastered the clarinet and violin, and today sings in a professional choir. She travels the world, playing in concerts and recording CDs.

Music has not only changed her life – three of her 12 siblings also play professionally today – but that of her entire town. The music institute in Urubicha has received worldwide recognition. "No one even knew there was a town called Urubicha," she says. "What we were given allowed us to transform."

Now she feels a duty to help other kids in remote towns lift their lives through voice and Vivaldi. "Our ancestors played with the Jesuits," she says. "It is in our blood." When the Jesuits arrived in this area of the country, they brought their rich musical traditions, quickly setting up choirs of professional musicians in each mission. But when the priests were expelled in the mid-1700s, and economic decline followed, the towns were nearly forgotten. So, too, was their music.

At the time Lizardo Paraba was growing up on a cattle farm in Cotoca, an hour's drive down a washboard road from San Ignacio de Velasco, no music classes existed in school. Only the elderly played the flute, occasionally. Lizardo, a skinny teen wearing jeans and a baseball cap, never even thought about music, he says, until he saw the Chiquitos Missions Festival in 2004. "I wanted to play right away," says the 15-year-old, who signed up for violin classes as soon as the orchestra in his town was formed seven months ago. He has since learned how to read music and plays in the orchestra with two younger brothers and a cousin.

• • •

For all its remoteness, San Ignacio de Velasco has its charms. True, most of the roads are dirt, and iPods and the Internet are largely notional. But the town does exude a quaintness with its red tiled-roof shops. People seem happy, and a veneer of wealth exists – some of it tied to tourism surrounding the festival.

The musical conclave came together through a confluence of events in 1996, enabled by the diligent work of musicologists transcribing the ancient works of the missionaries. At the time, the region didn't have an organ or harpsichord, or professional musicians to perform. In its first year, 12 groups played in three towns. This year 22 countries participated, including 300 foreigners and 600 Bolivians, across 20 towns.

But Cecilia Kenning, the festival president, says the primary focus has always been the children. The first music school was established in Urubicha, where residents still speak the indigenous Guarayo language, and the model has since spread to towns across the eastern lowlands. They're run by schools, towns, and local parishes, funded by a patchwork of private donations.

"This works very well in small towns, where there is no television," says Piotr Nawrot, a Polish missionary who has dedicated his life to transcribing the 12,000 manuscripts from the missions that include operas, instrumental music, sonatas, and full symphonies. "A violin comes in and it's very attractive."

Now students have a whole crop of role models, such as Anori Cunanguira. "I would love to be professional," says Juan Antiare, who sings bass in a choir called "peace and wellness" at a parish run by Father Holl. Some of his friends at school make fun of him, saying baroque music "puts them to sleep." But he seems unfazed. "Becoming professional now is much more possible with the attention of the festival," he says.

Music is changing more than the local teens. Some politicians now run for office promising to start new choirs. Adults, too, feel swept up in the fervor. Aida Vaca Diez, a local grandmother, finds the changes in San Ignacio de Velasco so dramatic they're hard to articulate. Her only regret is that orchestras don't accept children as young as 4 so she could sign up her grandson.

"Music touches the heart," she says. "You feel like you are in heaven when you listen to it."

How one Southern church forges unity through voice (Sacred Harp)

Photos and sound file at here at the Christian Science Monitor.

How one Southern church forges unity through voice
The centuries-old tradition of Sacred Harp, a form of choral singing in which anyone can participate, draws people to a spare church in rural Alabama once a year.
By Carmen K. Sisson | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

from the May 28, 2008 edition

Nauvoo, Ala. - The road to Liberty Grove Primitive Baptist Church meanders through northern Alabama, a lazy, looping ribbon of smooth blacktop at times, a treacherous snake of faded, broken gray asphalt at others. It's a path not unlike that of faith. Not unlike that, at times, of life itself.

Voices rise and fall in the breeze, audible long before you see the simple wooden church resting beneath a canopy of hundred-year-old oaks. The doors and windows are open, and music pours out across the desolate landscape, winding through the trees and lifting through billowing white clouds to a heaven of clear blue sky.

The music is Sacred Harp, a nondenominational form of choral singing that encourages community participation. Despite suggestions that the tradition is dying, there are singings from Chicago to San Francisco, and even the United Kingdom, every week, some attracting as many as 1,000 participants.

Slick CDs are being produced, and professors from around the world are hunching over atlases and MapQuest directions, trying to find their way to churches like Liberty Grove, hoping to study a culture that has become synonymous with the rural South but began in the singing schools of colonial England.

Today, fans of the music face a steep challenge – how to bolster the momentum of Sacred Harp and continue to make an ancient folk tradition relevant in today's modern world.

Liberty Grove, established in 1835, is the type of church typically associated with Sacred Harp. The church interior is unadorned. Bare pine walls. Plain metal fans and naked bulbs dotting the pine ceiling. Worshippers scattered among straight pine pews in uneven clusters, their hands rising and falling in 4/4 rhythm, down on the first beat, up on the third. Feet keep time as well.

Everything here is about time. Man's journey through life. God's infinite presence from creation through eternity. The music itself, sparse and raw, hearkening to a world where salvation and redemption were the backbone of rural culture.

The songs, culled from an 1844 hymnal, The Sacred Harp, were updated in 1991. The music is a style of shape-note singing, also known as fasola, in which the notes are printed in special shapes that help the reader identify them on the musical scale.

The songs center around death and resurrection, sin and repentance, minor keys lending a sad poignancy. Despite the name, there is no instrumental accompaniment. "Sacred harp" refers to what followers say is a God-given instrument – the human voice.

Singers face one another in straight-backed wooden chairs forming a hollow square – men on one side, women on the other – altos, basses, tenors, and trebles holding songbooks they no longer need to read.

The music is entrenched, etched into memory by childhood Sundays that seemed too long – itchy, starched dresses and pinching patent leather shoes, choking ties and hair slicked down with mothers' spit.

• • •

"Fa so la," Arthur Gilmore begins, his deep voice providing the pitch to guide the singers. From his position in the center of the square, he gets an experience unique to the leader – a wall of sound buffeting from four directions in quadraphonic stereo. There'll be no sermon today. Never is. The songs themselves are lessons for the followers, but religion is left on the doorstep, as are politics.

The purpose is the music, and its unique sound attracts people from all walks of life, from Buddhists to Jews. Sacred Harp singing is participation more than performance, open to anyone who wishes to enjoy it, out of spirituality, curiosity, or a love for music.

Dr. Eric Eliason, a music professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, is one who has come to participate in the once-a-year event at Liberty Grove. He says he's taught Sacred Harp for years, but just began singing five months ago when he discovered a group meeting weekly 10 minutes from his house.

"I thought it was a Southern thing," Mr. Eliason says, filling his plate during the customary dinner on the grounds here, spread upon a long picnic table beneath the trees. For visitors like Eliason, the home-cooked meal, prepared over several days, is exotic. Sweet potato cobbler, fried okra, Coca-Cola ham, coconut cake, banana pudding. For others, it's everyday food, another day in the South.

Though some attribute the resurgence of Sacred Harp to its vignette in the movie "Cold Mountain," Eliason says it began rebounding in the 1970s thanks to singers like Bob Dylan, who spawned a renewed interest in folk music. Dr. Warren Steel, a professor of music at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., says technology has helped fuel the movement. Mr. Steel runs a website devoted to fasola and attends singings 30 weekends a year.

Today, both he and Eliason have been invited to lead. There's no pressure. If the singers falter, they begin again. Steel says singings still fulfill their original purpose – to gather communities together in a world where religion can be divisive and the arts are a commodity. "You can't buy this," Steel says. "You can't make money off it."

Still, there is some money involved. Liberty Grove gives $3,000 in scholarships every year and is seeking a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and donations to build a music and cultural center. The purpose is to promote Sacred Harp singing, but other traditional music will be featured as well. The church has also taken advantage of technology, producing CDs, brochures, and operating a website.

Despite the publicity, everyone admits attendance is waning. There was a time when a singing like this would draw people from across the state to pile food and blankets into wagons and travel the dusty roads leading to the church. In later years, there were shiny campers and children buying snow cones from vendors, heedless to the white dresses and shirts that often fell victim to sticky-sweet rivulets of colored syrup.

• • •

Those days are gone now. The creek bed is dry, the tin dippers and wooden pails giving way to indoor plumbing and the steady beat of progress. Snow cone vendors haven't been here for years. The grounds now are spacious. A scant 40 people have gathered today in this one-red-light town of 284 people. Yet still, they come. And still, they sing.

Septuagenarian Sarah Beasley-Smith stares heavenward, her voice mingling with the others. Most of the people here today are related to her. Her mother and father met here. Her grandfather taught the singing school. She says the singings remind her of childhood and a time when she thought of this as "old folk's music."

She understands its appeal now. It's become a piece of her heritage she intends to keep alive. "It would have died if we'd kept it in the South," she says.

Seth Holloway leans against a sports car in front of the church, sending text messages and checking his MySpace page on his cellphone. A Christian music producer in Tennessee, Mr. Holloway comes home every year for the celebration he found boring as a child and admits is still somewhat tedious.

People are beginning to leave, a steady stream flowing to a slow trickle until at last the church is silent, windows lowered, doors locked. The wind kicks sand in great sweeps across the church's century-old cemetery. There is history here. Life, death, continuum.

And always, there is song.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Last Parandero (the Garifuna Paranda)

Christian Science Monitor
The last 'Parandero'
In Belize, musician Paul Nabor preserves an indigenous sound – and awaits a successor.
By Irwin Loy | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

from the May 9, 2008 edition

Punta Gorda, Belize - Paul Nabor sits huddled against an unseasonable chill outside his simple wood and thatched roof home. Every one of his 80 years seems etched on the face of this man, among the last in a line of artists dedicated to an indigenous musical form.

He painstakingly tunes his guitar – a recent purchase from Los Angeles, he notes proudly. From Mr. Nabor's lips fall words he can't always enunciate clearly.

When he sings his old melodies it becomes clear this is the same vivacious man who, as a teenager, kicked against the sea to right an overturned rowboat, then jumped in and paddled back, soaked – but with a story.

"Salva Vida," Na­­bor says, laughing. "That's the name of the song. Because my dory [was] named Salva Vida."

It was the first song Nabor composed; a ballad, called a paranda. There would be countless more. Most, he says, were forgotten with time. This musical storyteller, the one they call the parandero, didn't step into a recording studio until he was almost 70.

Nabor begins to strum his guitar. Out pour the minor keys of a Spanish ballad. Between chords his palm beats against the body of the guitar in an African rhythm. It is a rich blend, mirroring Nabor's people, the Garifuna of coastal Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

While Garifuna people, or Garinagu, identify with their African ancestors, escaped slaves shipwrecked off the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, their language is predominantly that of the Arawak and Carib Amerindians with whom they mixed, peppered with colonial French and Spanish.

So the paranda, at its core a traditional West African beat, is fused with Spanish guitars and Garifuna instrumentation – mahogany drums, shakers, turtle shells, call-and-response vocals – to form a haunting blend. It is the blues of the Garinagu.

"The guitar is not for the Carib people, you know," Nabor explains. "The drum is for the Carib people. Guitar is for the Spanish people. But you can mix it."

He sings in Spanish: "I love this woman." He finishes the song, drawing his finger up the frets. "Now listen," he says, strumming the tune again. "The same beat."

This time, however, his Spanish is replaced by full-bodied Garifuna.

Belizean record producer Ivan Duran first heard that raspy tone more than a decade ago on a cassette recorded by Andy Palacio, then a home-grown star of Punta Rock pop.

It was the first time Mr. Duran had heard the music straight from its composers. At the time, frenetic Belizean Punta Rock bands peppered their repertoires with these slower paranda ballads. But it was rare for the songs' composers, the paranderos, to perform beyond Garifuna villages. Duran set out to search for more of the music. But he could only find traces.

"People knew some songs, but the art of composing paranda songs had almost died," Duran recalls. "The social function of the music had almost died."

Still, Duran invited into the studio the few paranderos he found in scattered communities.The resulting album, simply called "Paranda," documented the sounds of the paranderos and drew international attention.

A decade later, the traditions of village troubadours like Nabor are still on the decline. Nabor remains the only parandero in Punta Gorda. There is a handful of the musicians across Central America.

"The style won't die, because recording artists will keep recording paranda," Duran says. "But [as for] the post of parandero in town, once Nabor dies, there's no one to take that post."

There was a time when Nabor tried to pass on his skills to youths. There was little interest. Their tastes ran to bolero. Then swing – then to rock, reggae, pop, even hip-hop. Sometimes the shift seems irreversible. "My time has passed," he says softly.

Down at the shoreline a lone fisherman skims the water in a canoe. Nabor looks out across the bay. "Everyone gives me my respect because I'm the one keeping up the paranda, right until now," Nabor says as the rain taps a rhythm on his roof.

"When I go, I don't know who will take it over." Then he pauses for a moment. "But somebody will take it over," he says. "I know somebody will."

Turbo-folk music is the sound of Serbia feeling sorry for itself

Diva of nationalism: Svetlana Raznatovic – ‘Ceca’ – is Serbia’s most famous star of turbo-folk. As much aesthetic as sound, the genre drips with the emotional martyrdom of a wounded nation and the commercialism of sex.
Srdjan Ilic/ap

Christian Science Monitor
Turbo-folk music is the sound of Serbia feeling sorry for itself
A product of the criminal Milosevic era, its odd nostalgia is the soundtrack to a new wave of nationalism.
By Nicole Itano | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

from the May 5, 2008 edition

BELGRADE, Serbia - The women parade across the stage, stiletto heels clacking as they croon songs of love and loss – ballads of village girls and heroic battles, of unrequited love and faithless men.

"Wherever I go, I always end up in the same place," goes the final medley, sung by a squadron of buxom, scantily-clad women to the accompaniment of accordions and brass. "Who can tear Kosovo away from my soul?"

The crowd cheers, waves heart-shaped balloons, and joins in. "Serbia, Serbia!" they chant.

This is the beat of nationalism in Serbia, the mournful, pumped-up tunes of turbo-folk, a genre born in the dark days of Yugoslavia's disintegration. And as Serbia confronts a resurgent nationalism – fueled by economic troubles and anger over Kosovo's declaration of independence – the rhythms of the Milosevic era are again playing on the political stage.

Turbo-folk is a flippant – oxymoronic – term that stuck to a genre of traditionally inspired folk songs set to a techno-pop beat. Associated with the brutal nationalism of the 1990s when Serbia was under the sway of the late Slobodan Milosevic, it is as much an aesthetic as a sound, one that is aggressive, brazenly sexual, and dripping with patriotic pride and victimhood.

"Turbo-folk," explains Milos Trninic, a local singer who plays in turbo-folk clubs, "sells emotion."

At the Amsterdam, a popular boat-cafe on the Danube River, young women in six-inch heels totter in, with ever-so-short skirts over fishnet stockings. Plunging necklines are de rigueur and platinum-dyed hair glints in the blinking lights. The men are less flashily dressed; in this world of new-money ostentatiousness, it's the thickness of their wallets that matters most.

Turbo-folk, according to Serbian academic Ivana Kronja, who has written a book on the music, glorified a newly emergent criminal class in Serbia – tied to Mr. Milosevic – that rose to power and prominence in the 1990s. Svetlana Raznatovic – the most famous turbo-folk singer, nicknamed Ceca – is the widow of the notorious Serbian paramilitary leader "Arkan," who was indicted on genocide charges by The Hague tribunal for Bosnian war crimes. She herself was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003.

Once again, these are troubled times for Serbia, which is awash with rage over the Feb. 17 declaration of independence by Kosovo. After the traumatic 1990s – when Serbia lost four wars, was bombed by NATO, and faced international condemnation and isolation – the chastened country seemed to be slowly creeping toward a Western orbit.

But western support for Kosovo's independence has strained ties between Serbia and Western Europe and reopened old wounds.The fragile governing coalition collapsed in the wake of Kosovo's independence declaration.

Now, as the country heads into yet another round of elections on May 11, there's a strong possibility that Serbia's next government will be a coalition with a strongly nationalistic flavor, between the center-right Democratic Party of Serbia and the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, which wants closer ties to Russia.

So, licking its wounds again, Serbia is feeling the resurgence of the turbo-folk beat.

Modern politics here has always had a soundtrack. There was the '80s rock embraced by a generation shrugging off the shackles of communism. The turbo-folk of Serbian aggression in the 1990s gave way to more alternative pop fare – hip hop, electronica, indie rock – tied to the revolt against Milosevic, who was toppled by street protests in 2000.

But turbo-folk's popularity never completely waned, even during the years when Milosevic was on trial for crimes against humanity. The genre's younger generation of fans, who can sing along with the turbo-folk anthems of the 1990s, say the music has shed its nationalistic undertones and now worships only commercial success.

"When it appeared in the 1990s, maybe it was political," says Milos Vuksanovic, the handsome guitarist of a band that plays weekly at the Amsterdam. "Now it's more a way of dressing. The girls, especially, they want to be stylish and to dress and be seen in a certain way."

After a decade of cultural isolation, in the years since Milosevic's fall, new musical styles have flooded in, many associated with the youth revolt. There are now Serbian rappers, like Beogradski Sindikat (Belgrade Syndicate) – who have taken on corruption – and punk bands and rockers. The Exit Festival, an annual concert in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, has become one of the great alternative-music festivals in Europe, attracting people from across the continent.

But turbo-folk still outsells them all in Serbia. The most popular clubs in Belgrade play the music on their busiest nights. Street stalls sell bootleg CDs of popular turbo-folk (and little else).

Local media broadcast their political philosophies through music, too. You won't hear turbo-folk on B92, which started as an anti-Milosevic youth radio station with alternative music and independent news and now broadcasts nationally on radio and TV. Pink TV – a shamelessly commercial TV station – plays endless videos of scantily clad singers belting out the folk-inspired tunes. Its most popular show, "Grand Parade," is an American Idol-like program on which viewers vote for their favorite songs, mostly turbo-folk.

But despite turbo-folk's wide popularity, many Serbs are hesitant to admit they like it, perhaps because the taint of nationalism lingers.

"People try to distance themselves from folk," says Mr. Vuksanovic, who confesses he doesn't particularly like the turbo-folk he sings. (He prefers Phil Collins.) "They put on an act and say that they only listen to turbo-folk when they go out. They are ashamed of it."

For Serbia's politicians, though, in these deeply divided times, music remains a powerful way of channeling ideology. Rallies for nationalist political parties play to nostalgic ballads, and, in the presidential election in February, the differences between the two candidates could be heard as much as seen.

Western-oriented liberal Boris Tadic, who was narrowly reelected as president, campaigned to the tunes of 1980s Belgrade rock, associated with the dying days of communism and the country's opening to the West. But his ultranationalist opponent, Tomislav Nikolic, known as "Toma" to his supporters, was backed at rallies by provocatively dressed turbo-folk crooners who sang nationalistic anthems and love songs with his name inserted as the romantic hero: "This life is not worth living if Toma does not win."

For many liberal-leaning Serbs, the right's embrace of turbo-folk is enough to send them running.

"Those of us who are political and socially aware, we would never go listen to that type of music," insisted Maia Todorovic, a beautiful, dreadlocked 19-year-old at a get-out-the-vote concert before the February election.

"It's not even music," scoffed her friend Tamara Antonijevic.

"Besides," laughed Ms. Todorovic, assessing the crowd, among which there was not a stiletto heel in sight. "We don't have the right clothes."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Afghans' Passion for Indian Soaps Faces Unhappy Ending After Ban

Washington Post
Afghans' Passion for Indian Soaps Faces Unhappy Ending After Ban
Bowing to Clerical Pressure, Ministry Deems Shows Un-Islamic

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 24, 2008; A18

KABUL -- Five nights a week, millions of Afghans put aside their dinner dishes, shush their children and turn on the TV to gape at Indian soap operas acted out in impossibly lavish settings by stars in sequined gowns and wedding jewelry.

To their defenders among Afghan journalists and social analysts, the dramas are a harmless distraction from the hardships and tensions of life in a poor, war-torn country where dust invades every crevice and suicide bombings are common.

To their critics in the government and among Muslim clergy, the shows represent an invasion of foreign behavior and beliefs -- from glimpses of cleavage and Hindu shrines to story lines touching on such taboo topics as divorce, infidelity and illegitimacy.

This spring, the off-screen plot has taken a contentious turn. The Ministry of Information and Culture banned the evening dramas last month, and government prosecutors have now charged one resisting TV station with offending public morals and endangering national security.

"These are serious charges that carry prison terms," said Saad Mohseni, co-owner of Tolo TV, which still airs the two most popular Indian soaps. "They are trying to go after us from every possible direction. The things they object to in the serials are happening every day in our own society, but we bury our heads in the sand."

The government of President Hamid Karzai, although propped up by Western aid and defended against Islamist insurgents by Western troops, is also highly sensitive to religious emotions in this conservative Muslim society and reluctant to defy Muslim elders.

Members of the senior religious council had complained that the serials were offensive to Muslims and should be banned. They have expressed similar concerns about other TV shows, such as a version of "American Idol," saying they encourage immorality.

"Our people are not against modern development or entertainment, but they should not turn our children away from the path of Islam," said Enayatullah Balegh, a member of the council. "I can control my daughter to not have illegal relations with boys, but TV is like Satan -- it is something you cannot control."

The substance of Balegh's fears is plastered all over this chaotic capital of dusty bazaars and glittering new office facades. Posters of Indian pop stars adorn shop windows, and everyone seems to know the latest scandalous revelation on "Tulsi," the nickname of the most popular Indian show.

Yet many Afghans who admit to enjoying the shows also say they disapprove of them. In conversations on campuses and in Internet cafes, young people's comments reflected the contradictions of a society undergoing a confused transition from strict, insular tradition to constant electronic exposure.

"These shows have a bad impact on our traditions," said Babrak Yusufzai, 19, a political science student wearing jeans and a Yankees baseball cap. "Children are learning about Indian ceremonies instead of Muslim ones." Yusufzai said he liked the idol-search show called "Afghan Star" but added, "Why don't they have idols of learning or law, not just singing songs?"

Alim Jamali, 27, a psychology student, said the Indian serials are "just like opium -- they make everyone addicted and distract them from the work of rebuilding our country." All Afghans want education and rights, he added, "but they must be within the frame of Islam."

The cult of celebrity is also a booming business, whose proprietors say they are only offering what their customers crave and what their country's new freedom allows. At a busy shop in Kabul's Titanic Market, the walls are covered with mini-posters of Indian TV and film stars in sensual poses.

"The older people don't like them, but the younger people love them," said the owner, Jamshid. "In the Taliban time, we only sold posters of Koranic verses, but we have democracy now, and people can buy whatever they want."

The conflict over TV entertainment is just one front in a broader battle over the role of television here. The medium, which was state-controlled until the 1990s and banned under extremist Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, is already the major source of information in a country where most adults are illiterate.

To violent fundamentalist groups such as the Taliban, television is both a religious offense and a political threat. Last month, armed men wearing masks entered a mosque in Logar province and warned people not to watch it, and masked attackers used razors to slash a female TV newscaster in Herat.

But conservative political factions headed by former Islamic militia leaders are trying to compete with private channels such as Tolo by establishing their own. With elections due next year, media observers say, TV is likely to become a vicious battleground, with propaganda masquerading as news and free speech.

"These former warlords are putting out their viruses on the airwaves now. They are anti-democratic, but they want to use the media for their own purposes," said Shukria Barakzai, a journalist and lawmaker from Kabul. "We need to build an independent, professional media, but I'm afraid it will die before it has a chance to flower."

The same contradictions are apparent in parliament, where liberals like Barakzai have far less influence than conservative Muslim politicians. This spring, the latter group introduced legislation that was almost identical to the old Taliban laws banning women's cosmetics, mixed-sex dancing at weddings, and animal fighting.

The proposal, unlikely to become law but indicative of the conservatives' growing clout, also included a broader ban on TV shows deemed un-Islamic and punishment for anyone who imports, distributes or buys "semi-naked" images in any form.

To Afghanistan's Western backers, the emergence of free media was a hallmark of the Karzai government, installed after the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001, and the reemergence of rigid Islamic policies puzzles and disturbs them.

This month, Tolo's Mohseni visited Washington and made the rounds of think tanks and government offices, warning that Afghan press freedom is under heavy assault. Privately, U.S. officials and scholars have urged Karzai to put more force behind his rhetorical championing of press freedom.

But the president's hopes for reelection have made it difficult for him to defy the Muslim clerics, and his tactic of apportioning senior posts as a form of political peace-keeping has further weakened his hand. The current information minister, for example, is a conservative who was once allied with a militia boss.

In one form or another, Afghan observers here say, the media and culture wars are likely to continue until the older generation of leaders -- veterans of male-dominated, tribal politics and the fight against Soviet communism -- are replaced by a younger generation that is better educated and includes women in leadership positions.

"Change has to come, because 62 percent of Afghans are under 30," said Abdul Hamid Mobarez, head of the national journalists' union. "People need entertainment. There is no security, and no place to breathe," he said. "Our government is weak, but we need to resist the forces of Talibanization and defend our new democracy."

But some analysts here say it would be a mistake to assume that the popularity of foreign shows means the rules of Afghan society -- such as arranged marriages and absolute obedience to elders -- are likely to change. And many young people say that what they like about the Indian soaps is not their exotic, risque aspects but their familiar, mundane ones, such as family feuds that feature dominating mothers-in-law, scheming relatives and timid brides.

"I like the serials because the issues are just the same as ours," said Khatia, 19, a literature student at Kabul University, who wore the modest black tunic and colorful head scarf that is the unofficial uniform of female students in the capital. "We do not want foreign culture to take over Afghanistan. We want to become a developed and modern Muslim country."

Rock acts ringing up sales via video games

Rock acts ringing up sales via video games
Motley Crue got more downloads for new single on 'Rock Band' than iTunes
updated 5:22 p.m. PT, Fri., May. 23, 2008

Games like "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero III" have proved their ability to breathe new life into classic rock sales. But can they do the same for new music?

Last month, Motley Crue decided to find out. The band placed its new single, the title track from "Saints of Los Angeles," for sale as a downloadable track on "Rock Band" well in advance of the album's release date, which has been pushed back to June 24. The only other place to obtain the track was iTunes.

According to data provided by the band's management, Tenth Street Entertainment, the track was downloaded more than 47,000 times via the Xbox 360 version of the game alone in the first week after it became available. ("Rock Band" publisher MTV Networks was unable to independently verify these figures, and total downloads that include the PlayStation 3 version of the game were not available.)

By comparison, the same track received slightly more than 10,000 downloads via digital services like iTunes and Amazon, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

That's a pretty big discrepancy considering that music bought via "Rock Band" can't be transferred to a portable music player or even a computer for later enjoyment. It can be played only via the game.

Tenth Street CEO Allen Kovac shrugs off the gap in sales between formats, pointing out that a sale is a sale. In an age of rampant piracy, reaching fans where they are willing to spend money is the primary goal.

"We do research on every artist we have, and the research said that the people who bought Motley Crue music and tickets play 'Rock Band" and video games ... (so) it was our inclination to go there," he says. "As marketers, it's our job to find the audience. If our audience tells us they're sitting at Xbox and PlayStation, that's our job to do that."

In slightly more than six months, the number of songs downloaded to the "Rock Band" game has surpassed 10 million tracks, according to MTV Networks, while song downloads from "Guitar Hero" passed 15 million, according to Activision. With more than 100 songs available for download via the "Rock Band" platform, that's an average of 100,000 downloads per song sold through the game.

That average, though, is somewhat skewed: Since new songs are added to the "Rock Band" store weekly, tracks available for sale since November have sold more than tracks added just last week. Still, it's an impressive figure.

By all accounts, catalog tracks sell best. Seven of the top 10 best-selling songs available on "Rock Band" are catalog titles; the other three are more recent, but still a few years old. Of all the songs available for download on "Rock Band," more than 75 percent are catalog tracks. The rest is primarily music released within the past year. Only a handful of songs are previously unreleased new music or music from unknown acts using the game to get noticed.

One such example is new metal act Black Tide. When its "Light From Above" album was released November 11, 2007, the single "Shockwave" sold only a few hundred copies per week, barely registering on Nielsen SoundScan. The week before being featured as a downloadable song on "Rock Band" on March 11, the single sold 1,000 downloads. Two weeks later, download sales doubled.

Yet sales on "Rock Band" were 10 times that of those on iTunes and other stores. In the six weeks following the "Rock Band" debut, "Shockwave" sold 6,000 digital downloads via online retailers, compared with an estimated 60,000 downloads via the game.

And "Rock Band" isn't the only game hawking new music. Def Leppard chose to release its new single "Nine Lives" as part of a three-song bundle on "Guitar Hero III" on April 24, along with past hits "Photograph" and "Rock of Ages."

The "Guitar Hero III" download totals are unavailable, but first-week figures from SoundScan show that it sold about 7,000 downloads. The album it was meant to promote, "Songs From the Sparkle Lounge," sold only 55,000 physical and digital units combined in its first week.

But Tenth Street's Kovac says "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" sales don't necessarily need to convert to album or digital download sales on a one-to-one basis to count as successful. Today's generation of music fans, he says, may be interested only in buying the game version of new music, enabling an interactive experience that has been sorely lacking lately.

"The resurgence of rock has happened because of 'Rock Band' and 'Guitar Hero,"' he says. "And the reason is because of the interaction with the audience. The more music marketing people look at interaction with the audience as opposed to only radio or a video, the more lasting the experience will be and the longer the artists' career will be."

U.S. Releases Seized Iranian Dulcimers to Legendary California Music Professor

Washington DC (USA) --(BUSINESS WIRE)-- The very mention of the word ‘Iran,’ can often trigger a reflexive enforcement response by the U.S. Government. But in the case of Manoochehr Sadeghi, an internationally renowned musician and retired UCLA professor of musicology, reason prevailed, and U.S. officials allowed Professor Sadeghi to take possession of musical instruments that otherwise might have been embargoed under U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.

In August, 2007, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized four miniature dulcimers (called santurs in Persian) that a relative in Iran had sent to Professor Sadeghi. After considering a petition by Professor Sadeghi’s attorney, however, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) at the U.S. Department of the Treasury granted Professor Sadeghi a license to import the dulcimers and Customs finally released the instruments to Professor Sadeghi.

Professor Sadeghi was born in Iran in 1938, moved to the United States in 1964 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001. He is a virtuoso on the santur, an Iranian stringed instrument played with two featherweight mallets. Professor Sadeghi began studying as a child in Iran, performed as a soloist with the Iranian national orchestra and has performed before foreign dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and the late King Hussein of Jordan. He taught at the Conservatory of Persian Music and, after moving to the United States, became a professor of Persian classical music, theory, history and performance at UCLA. His students have included Daniel Sheehy, the Director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and the Hon. Jimmy Delshad, the mayor of Beverly Hills, California and the highest-elected Iranian-American official in the United States.

In Los Angeles, Professor Sadeghi has performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the J. Paul Getty Museum. He has also performed in Washington, D.C. at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Freer Gallery of Art, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. He has received the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts.

Professor Sadeghi uses the dulcimers to privately teach students, give concert performances, and promote greater understanding of Iranian culture and music. He plans to eventually donate the dulcimers to museums throughout the United States.

Commenting on his receipt of the license, Professor Sadeghi said, “Music transcends all political boundaries and differences. I am enormously grateful to the Treasury Department for not letting our current relations with Iran stand in the way of my receiving these wonderful instruments.”

Professor Sadeghi’s attorney, David H. Laufman, a partner at Kelley Drye & Warren, secured the release of the professor’s seized instruments after persuading OFAC to grant him a license. He stated that “It’s never easy to obtain a license to bring in goods from Iran, particularly in the current enforcement climate. OFAC is to be commended for taking a hard look at the facts and coming to an equitable resolution.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog recently profiled Laufman for his efforts.

Beverly Hills Mayor Delshad commented that “Professor Sadeghi is the world’s leading master of the Persian santur and it has been a privilege to be his pupil.”

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Film on Iraqi Heavy Metal Band

From the New York Times
May 22, 2008
Headbangers From Iraq, Thrashing and Waiting

It was already an unlikely story: Around 2000, a group of Iraqi school friends weaned on bootleg Metallica and Slayer tapes formed their own metal band with an imposing name, Acrassicauda (derived from the name of a species of black scorpion), and an appropriately do-or-die attitude.

They rehearsed in a basement in Baghdad and dreamed of playing Ozzfest and having long hair. Though their kind of music was essentially verboten under Saddam Hussein’s regime, they managed to perform a few times for several hundred fellow headbangers and considered themselves a center of the (deeply) underground hardcore scene.

When their country was plunged into war a few years later, they lost a lead singer — he fled to Canada — but gained a new audience in Western journalists eager for some local color. Vice magazine, the downtown bible known mostly for its sneering outlook, profiled the band in its January 2004 issue, drawing attention to its perseverance in the face of increased security risks; no matter what, it seemed, Acrassicauda was committed to rocking out. In 2006, the company’s managers, sensing a bigger opportunity, traveled to Baghdad for what was intended to be a punchy short video starring the group, being billed as Iraq’s only heavy-metal band. Instead they turned the footage into a feature-length documentary, “Heavy Metal in Baghdad,” which opens for a weeklong run on Friday in New York and Los Angeles. (A DVD will be released June 10.)

A blend of “Behind the Music”-style back story and amateur guerrilla war reporting, the film follows Acrassicauda from 2003 to 2006 as the four remaining members struggle to stay together even as Iraq falls apart. Their rehearsal space is bombed, their audience dwindles and eventually, they, too, flee to Syria, then to Turkey. Two years later, filmmakers and band have remained committed to one another and to the youthful idealism of the movie (as expressed through a devotion to pounding riffs and shrill lyrics, of course).

“It was life-changing, nothing short of,” Eddy Moretti, 36, a director of the film, said of making it. In addition to helping the band, he said, “the big ambition is to get people to change the discourse on the war a little bit, to get people started talking about, wanting to know about, the Iraqi refugee situation.”

His co-director, Suroosh Alvi, 39, said that making the movie was a no-brainer. “There were just so many elements that I felt like we were tailor-made to do, especially writing about music for so many years in the magazine, it got really boring after a while, ” he said. “I would say it was one the most creatively satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on.”

They used the project to inaugurate, Vice’s Viacom-backed online video network, last year and to reposition the Vice brand as a more serious endeavor appropriate for the posthipster, globally pluralist era. (And it is still macho enough to keep the attention of young men, said Ken Sonenclar, managing director of DeSilva and Phillips, a media investment-banking firm.) But for Acrassicauda’s members, now living in exile on Vice’s dime in Istanbul, the life change was not uniformly positive.

The band’s three unmarried members — Marwan Hussain, 23, the drummer and designated spokesman; Tony Aziz, 29, the lead guitarist; Faisal Talal, 25, the singer and rhythm guitarist — and a cat share an apartment over a kindergarten. Firas Al-Lateef, 27, the bassist, lives with his wife and young son nearby. They have not seen their extended families in nearly two years.

Their refugee status means they can’t legally work, and their Iraqi passports and other political hurdles have made it impossible for them to travel. (They missed screenings of the movie at the Toronto and Berlin film festivals over the last year.) They don’t speak Turkish. Though they have played a few concerts, they don’t draw much of an audience on their own.

“We’re isolated, literally isolated,” Mr. Hussain said by telephone. (The members all speak English, and most of their songs have English lyrics.) “We ain’t got nothing much to do back here,” he continued. “It’s kind of expensive to go out, so we prefer to stay at the house, facing each other all day and night. Like, same old, same old.”

The band’s outlook was very different in 2003, when Mr. Alvi, a co-founder of Vice magazine 14 years ago, and Mr. Moretti saw raw footage of an Acrassicauda show in a soon-to-be-bombed hotel shot by Gideon Yago, the MTV personality. At the time the band members were hopeful that a regime change might allow them more freedom to thrash.

Mr. Alvi and Mr. Moretti decided to go to Baghdad and tried a few official channels, like getting visas through Iran, to no avail. In part because they wanted the footage to be ready for in early 2007, they had little choice but, in typical Vice fashion, to just wing it. In September 2006 they bought one-way tickets from Frankfurt to the Kurdish region of Iraq and flew to Baghdad from there. They stayed eight days, but didn’t tell their families about the trip until they had returned. Friends at more traditional media outlets helped them with logistics, like hiring security and finding hotels.

“We had our business cards and these fake laminates that we made; they just said, like, ‘VBS News, journalists’ with our photos on them,” Mr. Alvi said. “We would show them to people, and they would laugh at us.” Nonetheless, they managed to get around, and to a YouTube-primed audience the film’s sense of D.I.Y. gung-ho-ness can be charming, if not always on point. The movie cost $75,000 and a lot of favors.

The filmmakers were also not overly concerned with context or objectivity. At a party after a screening of the movie at the New York Underground Film Festival in April, Mr. Moretti admitted that he didn’t know why the band members got into metal in the first place. (To appease a reporter’s questioning, he then tried to drunk-dial the band in Turkey. There was no answer.) Instead he and Mr. Alvi focused on capturing the band members’ experiences as metalheads first, and as Iraqis second — the way Acrassicauda preferred.

“When we started the band we never said, ‘Oh, we’re from Iraq, maybe we should take advantage of it, be like circus freaks,’ ” Mr. Hussain said. “We’re just like normal people, passionate about the music.”

Heavy metal appealed to him for the same reason it has drawn millions of adolescents the world over: pure, honest rage. “The life there, it doesn’t give you much choices and options,” he said. “We find that heavy-metal music at first is a release. Later when we got more mature about it, we found we can actually use it as a good guide to direct and to say whatever you want, as loud and as fast as you can.”

The aspiring-rock-star tenor of “Heavy Metal in Baghdad” changes, though, when the band escapes to Damascus and the members’ political status as refugees becomes clear. (Mr. Aziz’ family is in Syria now; the others’ extended families are still in Iraq, Mr. Hussain said.) “Being in Damascus, you can see us thinking seriously about our lives, the world — everything is kind of heavy,” Mr. Hussain said.

For now Acrassicauda is stranded in Istanbul, where Vice helped the members relocate in the aftermath of some threatening e-mail messages they received after the movie’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Vice also bankrolled them with a few thousand dollars through fund-raisers and promotions like a Converse ad about “true originals.” Mr. Alvi, Mr. Moretti and others at Vice are working with the United Nations to try to secure travel visas so Acrassicauda can tour.

In what Mr. Hussain described as the only exciting development of the band’s time in Istanbul, Acrassicauda recently recorded three songs in a studio (underwritten by Vice), though the group is frustrated by not knowing when it will be able to perform them live. “For us, our life is the band,” he said. “The music is the only true thing that happened in our life, that we believe in. We still have hope that one day we’ll be able to establish something. All that we need to do is wait.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

2008 NEA National Heritage Fellowship Recipients

National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2008 NEA National Heritage Fellowship Recipients

Award is nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts

May 21, 2008

Media Contact:
Victoria Hutter, NEA
Program Contact
Barry Bergey

Washington, DC – The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) today announced the 2008 recipients of the NEA National Heritage Fellowships, the country's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Eleven fellowships, which include a one-time award of $20,000 each, are presented to honorees from eight states and Puerto Rico. The NEA National Heritage Fellowships program is made possible through the support of the Darden Restaurants Foundation and family of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, and Seasons 52 restaurants.

These awardees were chosen for their artistic excellence and contributions to our nation's cultural heritage. They represent a cross-section of ethnic cultures and traditions including Native American, Peruvian, Ethiopian, Brazilian, and Korean and art forms ranging from saddlemaking and dance to bluegrass music and drum making.

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia said, "It is important to recognize the diverse traditional arts that enrich America's cultural landscape and to award those whose dedication and artistry are so integral to the continuation of these art forms."

The 2008 NEA National Heritage Fellowship recipients are:

City, State

Horace P. Axtell/Nez Perce drum maker, singer, tradition-bearer
Lewiston, ID

Dale Harwood/Saddlemaker
Shelley, ID

Bettye Kimbrell/Quilter
Mt. Olive, AL

Jeronimo E. Lozano/Peruvian retablo (portable altar boxes) maker
Salt Lake City, UT

Oneida Singers of Wisconsin/Oneida hymn singers
Oneida, WI

Sue Yeon Park/Korean dancer and musician
New York, NY

Moges Seyoum/Ethiopian liturgical musician/scholar
Alexandria, VA

Jelon Vieira/Capoeira (Afro-Brazilian art form) master
New York, NY

Dr. Michael White/Traditional jazz musician/bandleader
New Orleans, LA

Mac Wiseman/Bluegrass musician
Nashville, TN

The 2008 Bess Lomax Hawes Award goes to traditional arts specialist and advocate Walter Murray Chiesa of Bayamón, Puerto Rico.

Profiles of the artists are available in the Lifetime Honors section of the NEA's Web site.

Another feature of this year's fellows is the role ritual plays in their art forms: Horace P. Axtell makes drums as part of the traditional religion of the tribes of the plateau; Sue Yeon Park is a master of the salpuri-chum (Shaman ritual dance) and seungmu (Buddhist ritual dance); the Oneida Singers perform at funerals and tribal ceremonies; and Moges Seyoum is the only practitioner living in the United States of an elaborate style of movement of the Ethiopian Orthodox prayer staff (takla).

These honorees join the ranks of previous Heritage Fellows, including bluesman B.B. King, Cajun fiddler and composer Michael Doucet, cowboy poet Wally McRae, gospel singer Shirley Caesar, and bluegrass musician Bill Monroe. Since 1982, the Endowment has awarded 338 NEA National Heritage Fellowships.

Fellowship recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in folk and traditional arts on the basis of their continuing artistic accomplishments and contributions as practitioners and teachers. This year a nine-member panel reviewed 235 nominations for the 11 fellowships. The ratio of winners to nominees indicates the extraordinary level of competition for this national honor.

The 2008 awardees will come to Washington, D.C. in September for a series of events including a banquet at the Library of Congress and an awards presentation on Capitol Hill as well as a concert scheduled for Friday, September 19, at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland.

The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest annual national funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama leads field in unsolicited campaign songs

Read the AP story here.
Obama leads field in unsolicited campaign songs

By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY – May 13, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — Barack Obama is closing in on the Democratic nomination for president, but he clinched the race for the best campaign soundtrack long ago — no superdelegates needed.

John McCain and Hillary Clinton also have plenty of musical support in the first presidential election of the YouTube era. But from's star-studded viral hit "Yes We Can" to amateur odes folk to Spanish-language tunes and even a Jamaican reggae tribute, Obama is the leader in what observers are calling a new form of political campaigning.

"Songs about candidates have really taken off," says Steve Grove, head of's news and politics division. "They've found a new way to support their candidates. ... it stretches from regular average voters all the way up to somebody like in terms of being kind of like a new, broader trend in political video."

Annie Palovcik is one of those regular people. She penned the prideful folk tune "Illinois Boy" for Obama when he first came to national prominence a few years back — then put it on the Web when Obama became a serious presidential contender this year.

"The concepts of his character and the place of Illinois filtered through my mind into this allegorical country song," said Palovcik, a songwriter and manager of two musicians.

"He is energizing those around him, daring them to look for a new way to dream," she says.

Not that Obama has a lock on musical inspiration. McCain has had songs penned for him, such as "Lead the Way" by a lawyer named Judd Kessler. Clinton has inspired numerous tuneful tributes — no less than Sir Elton John gave her a benefit concert in April — and "Stuck on Huck" was recorded for Mike Huckabee. Even Republican long shot Ron Paul had a song about him that got 60,000 views on YouTube.

Obama has strong support among young people, which may explain some of his Internet music presence. While Grove says there's no specific statistical data to prove it, just on YouTube alone "it seems that (Obama) has really garnered a lot of songs. I think the early success of the Obama girl music video (the song by a scantily clad woman that became a national sensation last year) probably had something to do with that."

Even Dulce Maria Gonzalez, a musician who supports Clinton, notices an Obama imbalance: "When I started to write a song for her, I noticed that there weren't that many on YouTube, and then I saw a lot of them, but they're just not as popular as the Obama songs."

She's hoping her "We Need A Woman" will help reverse the trend. Featuring Gonzalez crooning about Clinton's feminine power, the midtempo tune has garnered about 5,000 views on YouTube ('s "Yes We Can," in comparison, has gotten more than five million).

"I wanted to do something special for her, and let her know that she did have a Latin vote, and a young vote as well, and give her this song as a gift," said the resident of Brownsville, Texas.

It's not just musicians writing songs to show their support for Obama. Rolling Stone put him on the cover when endorsing him for president, Bruce Springsteen has announced his support, while performers like OK Go and Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz have performed for his benefit. Jay-Z has been taking time out on stage during his tour to flash a picture of Obama and tell the audience, "It's time for a change."

"Musicians generally do not like authority, establishment or bureaucracy. Obama is the first candidate in my lifetime, certainly in memory, that represents any kind of new wave of change," said Craig Wedren of the rock group Shudder to Think, which was part of an indie-rock bill, including OK Go, that recently gave a concert for Obama.

It's hard to pinpoint whether the popularity of songs translates into any particular voting surge. released "We Are The Ones" a few days before the Ohio and Texas primaries, but Clinton won both states.

But there has been record turnout in many states this year. said he specifically used music to support Obama instead of just lending his celebrity because "people are tired of that."

His song "is driven by inspiration and it's creative and it's love, it isn't anything else," he said.

That's what makes the majority of these songs so key, especially for Obama, says Grove.

"The dream scenario, by the way, is what the Obama campaign has basically landed, which is to inspire a group of supporters to do this on their own without any real top-down campaign control," he said.

And if candidates can move the songwriter, they may be able to move the nation as well.

"I keep wondering, if (Obama) is inspiring so much creativity for songwriters," asked Palovcik, "what is he doing for farmers?"

Monday, May 19, 2008

NYT Travel: Does the ‘Real’ Ireland Still Exist?

New York Times Travel
May 18, 2008
Does the ‘Real’ Ireland Still Exist?

AN August night in the sea-scented village of Kinvara finds us at Connolly’s, a pub so permanent that if some codger were to tell you it was here before Galway Bay, lapping now just outside the door, you’d nod and buy him a pint. My wife and I are hunched at a small table with friends when a smiling woman in a peasant skirt sits beside us, carrying a perfectly appropriate accessory in this corner of Ireland — a button accordion.

She is Mary Staunton, a musician known throughout the Irish west. When the inevitable call goes out, she obliges, her fingers skipping across the buttons like children playing frantic but sure-footed hopscotch. Then a white-haired man mentions an old song from his childhood. Does she know it? Why yes, she does, and when her fingers finish their dance, leaving the man smiling, there suddenly rises from across the room the hesitant but clear voice of a young woman who has summoned the nerve to sing. (“And I said let grief be a fallen leaf/At the dawning of the day.”) As she sings, all talking stops: an entire pub, transported. And I think to myself, now this would never happen where I’m from.

Was this the real Ireland? Or was it a rare dash of magic, sprinkled into Connolly’s to validate an antiquated sense of Ireland — a sense rooted in the days when economic inequity between two countries allowed American tourists to spend as though Ireland were one sprawling duty-free shop? Though the country is now experiencing some economic uneasiness, you still cannot help but think: How times have changed.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time in the western counties of Galway and Clare, and if nothing else, this is what I have gleaned: Ireland can be that place you missed as you traveled around Ireland, looking for Ireland.

Yes, you can find a thatched cottage here and there, if you try. Yes, you may even encounter a white clot of sheep blocking your rented car’s path, raising from musty memory some postcard caption about Irish Rush Hour. But to wander about, looking to bag with a digital camera some approximation of a time-faded Irish postcard, is to miss the complexities of a country that is thoroughly enjoying its wealth and adapting to its European Union membership while at the same time trying to preserve its dreamlike landscape and proud cultural heritage.

You may indeed hear a young Irish woman suddenly break into song in Kinvara. But you may also walk around the corner and be served dinner by a young man with an Eastern European accent instead of a brogue. Travel 10 miles up the road to Gort and you might wade into a celebration of Brazilian culture, staged by a transplanted community that is now an integral part of that old market town.

There you have it: delightful, post-millennial Ireland.

Well versed by now in the lesson that to search for Ireland is to miss it, my family and I once again settled into a self-catered apartment in Kinvara, a village cleaved to Galway Bay near the Clare-Galway border. A generation ago, even a decade ago, you might have called it an unhurried place; now Kinvara captures the transformation of Ireland in so many ways.

The village has a few narrow streets, some shops and pubs, and a stone-walled pier more than 200 years old, from which the distant lights of Galway City can be seen at night and the inhalations and exhalations of the sea can be measured. Across from the pier there looms Dunguaire Castle, which for nearly five centuries has stood on grounds near the ancient fort of Guaire, seventh-century King of Connaught.

The castle’s topmost open windows offer a panoramic view of a Kinvara in flux. Much of the surrounding farmland is being subdivided for new homes, some of them being offered for the equivalent of $1 million and more; they appeal to young professionals looking for an easy commute into Galway, and to affluent Dubliners seeking a second-home getaway. It all leaves one wondering whether the village’s aesthetics are at risk; whether these new developments, and the taxing of the fragile infrastructure they represent, will make Kinvara less — Kinvara-like.

But for now, Kinvara presents curious juxtapositions of the old and the new. Here, for example, an inviting place called the Burren Beo Café occupies an old stone storefront where wireless access is available and where tombstones from a long-gone churchyard adorn the patio. You can sip your caffè latte and imagine the life led by one Bryan Daly, who departed this life at the age of 33, in 1816, and whose headstone lies flat at your feet.

THOUGH Kinvara is perfectly situated for day trips to other points of the Irish west, I often struggle with whether to stay or to go, lulled as I am by the mundane daily rhythms of a village I have come to know in all seasons.

In the mornings, I watch the same white-bearded fisherman — said to be Kinvara’s last — park his old black bicycle by the pier, row a skiff to his rusty-green vessel, and disappear into the bay. Sometime later I see him rowing back to shore, where he mounts his bicycle and vanishes down a narrow lane, leaving me to wonder whether I had actually seen him or simply imagined him.

In the afternoons, I sometimes see the beer truck pull up to Connolly’s, and I watch the deliveryman throw a seat cushion on the ground, bounce the beer kegs precisely onto the cushion, then spin them like squat and silvery dance partners toward the pub door.

And in the evenings, I take walks with my wife and two young daughters along a worn path that meanders along the shoreline and through pastures where cows, horses and donkeys approach, as if seeking the latest gossip from Connolly’s. At the stony pier we watch the bobbing of moored Galway hookers, traditional wooden sailing boats with single masts and glorious billowing sails. Once used to import turf from rocky Connemara, the hookers are now the star attraction of a mid-August festival called Cruinniu na mBad, or Gathering of the Boats.

The sun drops, and somewhere voices are raised in song, seducing you to stay snug in Kinvara. But other places beckon, places dotted through the west that represent the old, the new, the real Ireland. If you were to climb again up those stone steps of Dunguaire Castle and peer again through one of those narrow windows, you would see beyond the village a limestone moonscape of hills and crevices, of wild goats and wildflowers, that stretches for more than 100 square miles across North Clare. This is the Burren.

Take any crooked Burren road, whether to Kilfenora or to Lisdoonvarna, to Tubber or to Cassidy’s Pub, and something ancient — a solitary Celtic cross, a crumbled farmhouse, one of the megalithic tombs of stone called dolmens — presents itself. One rain-swept afternoon, friends led us to a Burren mountain called Slieve Carron, which stretches across the horizon like a giant in repose. We donned slickers and walked a mile across cow-pocked fields, through some brush, up a muddy hill, to a tree-canopied pocket as lush as any hobbit’s grotto. Here was an altar made of rock slab beside a spring. And here, deeper in, was a cave where St. Colman MacDuagh is said to have lived and meditated. No beeping of backhoes clearing way for another luxury home; just the beating of rain against leaves.

This sense of exposure, even oneness, with sky, rock and water continues through the short, winding drive from Slieve Carron to New Quay. Found there is a semi-secret place called the Flaggy Shore, a stony stretch along Galway Bay that is alive with lime-green seaweed and bruised-purple algae, with tidal pools and breath-catching winds, with — well, best to step aside and let the unmatchable Seamus Heaney describe the Flaggy Shore experience in his poem “Postscript”:

... You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Half a mile away, at the back door of Linnane’s Lobster Bar, fishing boats rock in the impatient tide; at its front door, two rumpled regulars sit on upturned kegs, offering nods and how-are-ye’s. Between these portals, fine fish and chowder are served. But on this day, and on a patch of pasture just outside Linnane’s and beyond a stone wall, there sit two sleek private helicopters, so out of place in these simple surroundings — and yet very much in their proper place in the Ireland of today. The very rich in Ireland think nothing of zipping by helicopter the 130 miles from Dublin to Galway or Clare for a leisurely lunch of oysters and then back again, thus avoiding the off chance of traffic congestion caused by sheep on some secondary road.

In the Ireland of today, even the famous Cliffs of Moher are different. Not long ago the amenities included a small parking lot, a modest cafeteria and a gift shop. But with the completion early last year of a multimillion-dollar renovation, the country’s most popular tourist attraction now includes the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, a multimedia center cleverly built into the hillside. It could have been cheesy; instead, it is mesmerizing, with audio-visual presentations that celebrate the intertwined stories of rock, water and humankind.

But the real always trumps the virtual. The cliffs remain a pulse-racing place where a four-mile stretch of improbable green land suddenly stops, and walls of shale and flagstone drop several hundred feet to receive the angry white-foam crashes of the Atlantic.

A change in infrastructure is one thing; a change in culture is quite another. And nowhere is this change more strongly felt than in Gort, about 40 miles northeast of the cliffs and just a dozen miles from Kinvara. My mother grew up on a farm near there, and I’ve been visiting Gort since the 1970s. I have watched it gradually grow from an aged and insular town to a bedroom community for Galway City, some 20 miles away. Farms I remember are now Levittown-like subdivisions.

The real change, though, is in Gort’s new and sizable Brazilian community, attracted in part by job opportunities at a local meat-processing plant. The impact has been extraordinary: Brazilian music nights in one of the pubs, Brazilian necessities — from maracuja to mandioca — in the shops, and a Sunday Mass said in Portuguese. There has been the usual awkwardness in this marriage of two distinct cultures, but for the most part the newcomers have been warmly accepted; for example, when carbon monoxide from a faulty oil burner killed two Brazilian men nearly three years ago, townspeople banded together to raise money to help the families.

And every June, Gort serves as host to a traditional Brazilian festival called the Quadrilha. The town center comes alive with folk dances and passionate sambas that could never be confused with an Irish step dance, while the air fills with the aroma of Brazilian cuisine that could never be confused with brown bread and tea.

You will see the Irish at the Quadrilha, some of them wearing the soccer jerseys of Brazil’s national team, just as you will see Brazilians two months later at the Gort Show, an annual agricultural fair, where inside the community center, locals compete for best mince pie and handsomest heads of garden cabbage, while in the fields outside, judges in bowler hats ponder before selecting the best-colored colt, filly or gelding. The new Gort is reflected in the flags of Ireland and Brazil that sometimes hang in shop windows, the green in both nearly blending.

Any day trip through the west of Ireland will lead to some new discovery, some new reflection of the steady departure from a twee past that was never quite as twee as tourists might imagine. Yes, there are still places like Cong, the adorable little village in County Mayo whose economy even now hinges on its serendipitous role as the setting for “The Quiet Man,” a movie from 1952 that starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. But a short drive from Cong into the Connemara wildness, where there are often stretches of nothing more than rock, craggy hills and the occasional car, you can find beside an abandoned stone farmhouse a recently built summer getaway, and another backhoe carving into the scenery to make way for another second home. Remote Connemara is no longer remote, and no longer cheap.

There is so much to experience in Connemara, from the ruggedness of its Twelve Bens mountain range to the refined comfort at its old Renvyle House Hotel, that it can seem almost too much at times. And so I return to that place I know a little, Kinvara.

I know that when the evening tide rises at the pier in nearby Parkmore, the sprat-chasing mackerel nearly leap into your pail. I know that on the short ride back to town, in a stamp-size spot called Nogra, there’s a century-old pub and store called Fahy’s Travellers Inn; you drink your pint, hear the murmur of local chatter, then toss your spare change into the can for the African Mission that sits on the bar.

And I know that music tends to break out.

Another August night finds us with 20 others, talking and drinking under an awning outside the Pier Head, a bar and restaurant across the quay from Connolly’s. Those majestic boats called hookers rock gently in the bay. Dunguaire Castle, set aglow by floodlights, watches over Kinvara, as always. It is raining.

Then a man I know starts singing, as is his habit at moments like these. With eyes closed, he sings an old song written by a Kinvara poet long gone, about the cuckoos calling from the woods within, and his love beside him and the tide full in. People fall quiet, many with heads bowed, creating a sense that in all of Ireland there are only these sounds: seawater lapping, rainwater tapping, and one man’s song.