Welcome to the Cardi Party

‘The “secret” to her success is that she is able to simultaneously be and represent different things to different people’

Over Super Bowl weekend, Cardi B cheerfully eclipsed this year’s televised halftime show by appearing in Atlanta at a series of related events that only underscored her steadfast refusal to take the stage inside the stadium in protest of the NFL’s continued blackballing of Colin Kaepernick. Only Cardi B seems able to dominate a news cycle as much by what she doesn’t do as by what she does. Continue reading “Welcome to the Cardi Party”

Aretha: The Voice of America

It may be difficult for anyone born after 1980 to fully grasp how important Aretha Franklin has been to America. There is simply no longer any national context or political narrative that adequately explains it. She began as just a small girl whose remarkable voice was big enough to convey all the frustrated yearnings of an oppressed people, and all the unfulfilled promise of a great nation. We no longer inhabit the kind of world that gave shape, depth, and momentum to Franklin’s career — my own experiential understanding of America has more in common with that of my grandmother, who was born in 1888, than with people who hit their teens or twenties during the 21st century. Continue reading “Aretha: The Voice of America”

Nova Ruth Wants to Free Us From the Bondage of Slavery

On YouTube you can find a video of Javanese soul singer Nova Ruth singing “Perbatasan” (Indonesian for “Borderline”) from the back of a pedicab driven by her American-born collaborator, Grey Filastine. Strings of lights draped on the pedicab illuminate a world of endless roads and fragile vehicles in an unnamed Indonesian city, while English subtitles translate lyrics about the alternating hope and despair of contemporary war refugees. The rhythmic and melodic structure of the song is based on the circular polyphonics of Javanese gamelan, while the digital loops and noise-filtered string mosaics evoke Migos as much as Philip Glass. Continue reading “Nova Ruth Wants to Free Us From the Bondage of Slavery”

Rakim, Marly Marl, Roxanne Shanté, and Other Rap Pioneers Celebrate Forty Years of Hip-Hop

Four decades ago, when the Bronx was famously burning, one nightclub brought together the boogie-down borough’s dancing queens, hustlers, graffiti kids, turntable ninjas, and fledgling MCs under one roof. “It was just Sal’s place up in the Bronx where it all went down, where everybody in the whole rap industry used to go hang out,” Marley Marl says. “Whenever Sal has a celebration, I’m always down to keep the Fever spirit alive.” Continue reading “Rakim, Marly Marl, Roxanne Shanté, and Other Rap Pioneers Celebrate Forty Years of Hip-Hop”

Downtown Icon James Chance Cuts Loose

It was well after midnight last Thursday by the time James Chance and the Contortions took the stage of the Bowery Electric. Dapper in his dress jacket and dancing shoes, the 63-year-old Chance made it clear he was there to boogie. The grotto-like basement space was packed with people who clearly didn’t give a fuck about a day job. Feckless twentysomethings squeezed back-to-belly against grizzled survivors of three or more decades of musical nightlife, ready to spend the first minutes of a new day with a legendary downtown iconoclast. Continue reading “Downtown Icon James Chance Cuts Loose”

Still Beating: A Bronx Festival Celebrates Centuries-Old Puerto Rican Rhythms

Every two years since launching at Hostos College in 2000, the BomPlenazo festival has come to the South Bronx to celebrate Puerto Rico’s traditions of bomba and plena music. Through concerts, dance, film, and master workshops, New Yorkers experience firsthand how the twin art forms can create and empower communities. This year’s edition (October 6-9) adopts a theme of “Between Generations,” setting longtime masters alongside younger players for a dialogue that spans decades. Continue reading “Still Beating: A Bronx Festival Celebrates Centuries-Old Puerto Rican Rhythms”

Global Fest – Webster Hall – 1/13

Last night the multiple stages of Global Fest played host to more strong female headliners than ever before. This was deservedly a point of pride for the event’s co-producers. Earth Mother energy was so pervasive in this year’s lineup that even most of the bands led by men had the wisdom to include women as singers or dancers. This was also the most conceptually balanced roster of talent I recall seeing at any Global Fest. Moving from room to room throughout the evening you could often sense one performer’s key qualities instructively illuminating another’s. Continue reading “Global Fest – Webster Hall – 1/13”

Why “World Music” Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore: What I Learned at APAP

If you ever had any doubts about whether the global pop promotion game was an intellectual enterprise as well as an entrepreneurial movement, this year’s 10th pairing of NYC’s annual Global Fest with the yearly Association of Professional Arts Presenters’ conference would set you straight. Continue reading “Why “World Music” Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore: What I Learned at APAP”

Live: Gonjasufi Presses On in the Midst of Technical Chaos

Better Than: Watching the corny parts of the “Watch the Throne” tour.

Hip-hop has always flirted with spirituality. The S.p.o.o.k.s. and Wu-Tang embraced a Buddhist vision; M.C. Hammer, God’s Property, and P.M. Dawn charted with Christian themes; and the 5% Nation attracted many gifted creators of beats and rhymes. But what’s most different about the combination of yoga-dharma, Sufism, Rasta altruism, and hip-hop purveyed by Sumach “Valentine” Ecks (a/k/a Gonjasufi) is the psychedelic aspect. Continue reading “Live: Gonjasufi Presses On in the Midst of Technical Chaos”