Archive for the ‘World Music’ Category


I’m back!

September 23, 2011

It’s been more than a year since I’ve written something for this blog. The last piece I wrote, dated September 2, 2010, was a review of a Michael Bublé concert. Why the silence? I’ve been busy at work and with life in general. Whenever I thought about blogging, something told me it wasn’t an essential use of my time, so I wrote nothing.

But saying I was busy is just a lame excuse. I could have blogged if I really wanted to. It’s not like there was any shortage of topics. As always, I went to many concerts in the last year, and I could have reviewed any number of them. In case you’re wondering, since that Bublé show, I’ve seen the following artists:

The National, The Walkmen, Arcade Fire, Calexico, Broken Social Scene, Big Boi (the last time I had to accompany Miles to a concert – no more hip hop and metal for me), Sufjan Stevens, Gorillaz, N.E.R.D. (Pharrell Williams), Lila Downs, Concha Buika, Junip, Galaxie 500, Rufus Wainwright, Teddy Thompson, Grinderman (Rufus/Teddy and Grinderman, featuring Nick Cave, on the same night!), Leonard Cohen, Black Dub (Daniel Lanois), the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (doing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 and Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, including the Vancouver Bach Choir singing “Ode to Joy”), Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses, Owen Pallett, Donny McCaslin, Orrin Evans (McCaslin and Evans in NYC), Ernie Watts and the Capilano University “A” Band, Salif Keita, Robert Plant, Fleet Foxes,  the Pixies, Imaginary Cities, Tonbruket (Dan Berglund), Robert Glasper, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Trombone Shorty, Lucinda Williams, Ana Moura, The Bad Plus, Colin Stetson, Christian McBride & Inside Straight, Richard Galliano & Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Atomic, L. Subramaniam, Spirit of the West, Dan Mangan, Gillian Welch, Rosanne Cash, The Jayhawks, Solas, Kathryn Calder, Jenny Whiteley, James Cotton and numerous other artists at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Bon Iver (along with the Rosebuds in Raleigh, North Carolina), Beirut, the Decemberists, Okkervil River, Charles Bradley, Iron & Wine, Marketa Irglova (of the Swell Season), Devo, the Pointed Sticks, the Lewis Nash Quintet, Karkwa, and Aidan Knight.

Some photos I took:

L. Subramaniam at Summer Live:

L. Subramaniam

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings at the Folk Fest:

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings

Kathryn Calder at the Folk Fest:

Kathryn Calder

Okkervil River at Malkin Bowl:

Okkervil River

Devo at the Vogue:


And that doesn’t include the band I play in, OEQ, performing at Kits Neighbourhood House and the Kitsilano Showboat, and Miles performing with the TD High School Jazz Intensive band at David Lam Park and the UBC Senior Jazz Band at the Chan Centre.

But no, I didn’t write a word. Until now. Although simply posting a list of concerts doesn’t really count. That’s more bragging than blogging. (I thought it would be an interesting exercise to go through Google Calendar and make a list of all the concerts I went to in the last year. My conclusions: I go to a lot of “alternative” shows where most of the audience is half my age – will I still be doing this when I’m 64?; I have no idea whether my concert-going is slowing down or keeping pace with past years; I’m a lucky guy to be able to see so many shows; and no wonder my hearing is going.)

I’m still not going to write anything of substance about those concerts, most of which were wonderful. But this is my way of easing back into blogging. I was wrong to think that blogging isn’t a must-do for me; writing has been a big part of who I am since Grade 9 (when I had an epiphany, in English class, that I could write), so I NEED to do it. Stay tuned for some actual writing.



January 14, 2010

What’s with all the untimely deaths of influential musical artists in recent weeks? First Vic Chesnutt left us on Christmas Day, then Lhasa de Sela on New Year’s Day, and the latest just yesterday: Jay Reatard.

I don’t really know Chesnutt and Reatard’s music, but I’m a huge Lhasa admirer, so I was devastated to hear about her death from breast cancer at the age of 37. When I saw a tweet about it, I didn’t want to believe it. I had no idea she was battling the disease for 21 months.

I first heard her music in June 1997. I was deciding which artist to interview for the Vancouver Courier in advance of that summer’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival, and after hearing tracks from her debut album La Llorona, I knew she had to be the one. I was completely entranced with her acutely intense vocals in Spanish and the music that combined ranchera, klezmer and more in a style that couldn’t be categorized. Lhasa, a Montrealer with Mexican-American roots, was a joy to interview and turned out to be one of the hits of the folk fest.

I interviewed her again in 1998 and over the years caught probably all of her Vancouver shows. I can even remember the exact venues: the Vogue Theatre, Starfish Room, Richard’s on Richards and the Commodore in a dream double-bill with Calexico. That show, in 2004, was the last time I heard Lhasa perform live. She was a generous performer who upped the intensity even more on stage.

I’ll end with some quotes from the articles I wrote on Lhasa:

On why, at the time, she preferred singing in Spanish:

“Physically, the voice comes from a different place. It’s kind of more torn out of the entrails. It’s more profound in some way. Also, I think the whole kind of poetic aura of the language is very emotional, very evocative. That’s why it’s such a rich language to perform and sing in.”

On why audiences connect so strongly with her singing and stage presence:

After a long pause, she says it’s hard to answer the question without sounding arrogant. But then Lhasa offers an explanation for why she and her bandmates strike resonant chords. “I think there are a lot of entertainers out there. We’re not entertainers at all. For me it’s something more mysterious than that. I don’t know if there are a lot of people who completely give themselves, heart and soul, to music like we are constantly trying to do.”


R.I.P. Mercedes

October 7, 2009

An icon of Latin American folk music – the great Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa – died Sunday. Thousands of people attended her funeral and the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, declared three days of national mourning. In Canada, it would be like Leonard Cohen leaving us – that’s how enormous a loss this is for Argentina. As a leading figure in the Nueva Canción (new song) movement that combined folk and other styles with political protest, she was truly the voice of the people.

In 2002, I interviewed Sosa for the Vancouver Courier. It wasn’t a typical telephone interview. The usual procedure for “phoners” is the writer calls the subject directly (or vice versa) and conducts an interview. But Sosa only spoke Spanish so a translator was needed. Complicating matters was that fact that another journalist wanted to interview Sosa, and we both needed translation. So the promoter of Sosa’s concert at the Orpheum arranged for a group interview, with a translator present. It took place at a beautiful house in Point Grey. I wasn’t told whose house it was, but I spied a piece of mail that had the name of the person who lived there: a well-known CBC broadcaster.

The interview went well. I asked most of the questions, which Sosa answered thoughtfully and the translator translated thoroughly. Here’s an excerpt from my story on Sosa: “We’re huddled around a speaker phone that connects us to Sosa in her Buenos Aires apartment overlooking Avenida 9 de Julio, known as the widest avenue in the world. At one point Sosa answers a question by doing what she does best: sing. We collectively smile as the 66-year-old icon vocalizes with a clear and rich tone that resonates through the speaker.”

Sosa singing her signature song: “Gracias a la Vida”: