Music, Ho Ho

by wjw on September 26, 2007

So . . . Saturday night I was at the Globalquerque festival, on my way to hear Yungchen Lhamo again, and I passed by the open air pavilion, and there was Puerto Plata and his band. And the music was so good that I couldn’t pull myself away.

Puerto Plata’s real name is Jose. He renamed himself after his home town in the Dominican Republic. He’s 84 years old, and he’s just released his first CD after performing for sixty years. He’s pretty much got the entire history of Dominican hardwired into his brain and his fingers, and he was happy to recapitulate it for us. Son, merengue, musica jibara, guaracha . . . and his band absolutely rocks.

I bought his CD, and he signed it “Jose” in a hand that was clearly not accustomed to forming words. Perhaps he has come late to literacy.

The CD is a lot more acoustic than the dance band he brought to the festival, but it makes pleasant listening nonetheless.

Eventually I did drag myself away, to see Dragon Art Studio, a family of Chinese puppeteers. (So there you have my priorities. I rank good Caribbean music over Buddhist chanting, but behind Chinese puppets. Go figure.)

The puppet show was funny, charming, and ingenious. We saw a peddler beset by rioutous monkeys. We saw a throwdown between a haughty crane and an ingenious tortoise. We saw a dancer recreating the postures shown on 1500-year-old Dunghuang cave paintings. And we saw a ferocious ping pong match between two supernaturally gifted opponents.

Alas, we didn’t get to see the Monkey King at the Flaming Mountains. We only had an hour.

From the puppet stage we headed off to the Roy Disney Theater to check out Ilgi, a band from Latvia that I wanted to see out of a sense of Baltic solidarity. These folks were the subject of much attention from the Authorities during the Soviet occupation, when Latvian folk music was more or less forbidden, but are now at the top of the Latvian charts.

First off I saw an accordion, a dulcimer/harp/lap thingie, and an instrument that looked as if it were made of a couple strings stretched over a pine box. There was also a bagpipe of a non-Celtic type.

The music was excellently-performed “post-folk.” We also learned that the way to say “thank you” in Latvian is to say “Paul Diaz.”

Next up was the Italian band Fianna Fumana on the main stage at the Plaza Mayor. Despite having a long-legged young woman in a miniskirt and tights who was carrying a bagpipe, the music was a lot more “post-folk” than we’d heard from the Latvians. It was pretty much indistinguishable from rock ‘n’ roll, except that we were assured that the melodies and lyrics were traditional. Good rockin’ sounds tho, and the bagpipe made me wonder why more rock bands don’t have bagpipes.

(This one was a regional bagpipe called a piva Emiliana, but it looked identical to the Latvian one.)

Afterwards I caught a bit of Lankandia Cissoko’s set. He’s a Senegalese griot who plays the kora, which is basically a harp made from a honkin’ big calabash with a stick rammed through it. He was playing with a much younger man who was playing a kind of balafon, the African instrument from which the marimba was developed.

Expertly done, I’m sure, but I lacked the context for full appreciation.

The evening’s big finale was Mickey Hart’s Global Drum Project. I’d been looking forward to this, but the results were not quite what I expected. I’d figured with so many drummers on stage, you’d have a hard time not dancing, but nothing danceable occurred. The huge crowd jamming the dance floor swayed back and forth for a while, then gave up swaying and just watched.

Mickey Hart was center stage, in a polo shirt and glasses, very busy and bustling around behind an enormous wall of equipment. He produced a lot of electronic sounds and lyrics along the lines of, “Rhythm moves throughout the Universe, and Beyond the Universe.” I noticed that the other drummers seemed to be trading licks around him, as if he weren’t there.

Perhaps in another mood I would have listened to this, but I wasn’t in that sort of mood. I still had virii infecting my lungs, and it was getting late and cold.

So we drove home, playing Puerto Playa all the way.

Dave Bishop September 27, 2007 at 8:59 am

In my bleaker moments I feel like Rock music has colonised the world and there is no room for anything else.
The festival which you describe so vividly (and the Yorkshire folk club that I attend every month) persuades me that I am, perhaps, being overly pessimistic.

dubjay September 27, 2007 at 10:08 pm

My impression is that it’s rap that has colonized the music world. I’ve her rockers rap, blues musicians rap, jazz vocalists rap . . .

Though the stone rap fans all say that rap is dead.

Here in the states, where almost all stations are owned by Clear Channel or Viacom or some other conglomerate, your music doesn’t get airplay unless your label bribes the company’s management.

This used to be called “payola” and was illegal; now the process involves “paid spins,” in which the record is played as part of an advertising spot, and it’s not against the law.

So what you hear on radio in the States is what record executives (age 50-75) pay radio station PD’s (age 40-65) to play, and is based on their idea of what an 18-year-old wants to hear.

Which sucks. Both the practice and the music, that is.

Therese October 2, 2007 at 2:56 pm

“Music Ho Ho” – makes me smile:) Its like Santa’s Ho Ho, of treasures you are taking out of your bag there. It is so nice when music cut you of track, and pleases you even more with the surprises it has to offer. However, just wanted to share this page with you…it has it all and more.
Calabash Music

Alberto October 6, 2007 at 12:23 pm

Hello, this is Alberto from Fiamma Fumana. Thanks for your kind words, though I have to say that to me our music does sound traditional! But then, I have lived inside Italian trad music for most of my life, so I probably take a lot of things for granted that I should not when playing to a non-Italian audience.

By the way, I agree on your views about radio music choices. Surprise surprise, commercial radio audience in the U.S. is shrinking… 🙂

dubjay October 8, 2007 at 9:04 pm

Alberto, thanks for stopping by!

You guys did a great set. If my lungs had been up to it, I would have been dancing the whole time.

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