Over the last decade, a new genre of electronic music has risen up from the Chicago scene. It's called footwork and it's born from a style of Chicago street dance of the same name. Known for its frenetic, high-speed tempos, footwork is a fixture of the Chicago underground. But producer DJ Rashad is taking the sound international with his critically acclaimed LP Double Cup released on influential UK label Hyperdub.
DJ Rashad will join fellow footwork producer DJ Spinn as the opening act for Chance the Rapper's Dec. 4 show at Old National Centre.
NUVO: I've read several recent reviews and articles referring to you as the "ambassador of footwork." How do you feel about that title?
DJ Rashad: It's a good feeling, but I'm just one of the ambassadors. I can't say I'm even the top, it's me, DJ Clint, R.P. Boo, DJ Spinn and Traxman. We're the original footwork guys that got it started and we're all carrying the sound on. DJ Spinn and I have been putting in a lot work, that's gotten us the exposure we have now. But we want to use that exposure to put a light on the other guys on our team as well.
NUVO: Footwork developed as an offshoot of juke music. Can you explain the differences?
DJ Rashad: Footwork and juke are almost the same thing. They're both around 150 to 160 beats per minute. The only real difference is the juke songs are more like Top 40 shit. Juke is more DJ- and radio-friendly. Footwork is just raw and dirty, fucking in your face, crazy, weird, bass-heavy shit. There's no limits on the footwork sound.
NUVO: There are dark textures in the footwork sound. Where did those dark or "weird" influences come from?
DJ Rashad: It's influenced by the aggression of the dancers. They like that dark, weird, crazy shit. We didn't intend to create a style like that, it was just how we were feeling at the time. It kind of stuck and became part of the formula.
NUVO: The dancers are a huge part of the footwork scene. Do you have any dancers traveling with you on this tour?
DJ Rashad: In some cities we link up with dancers, but for the most part it's just me and Spinn. I have family and friends in Indianapolis that footwork. If they can work out their schedules, they will be dancing at the show.
NUVO: You're currently on tour with fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper. I heard you first met up with Chance in London; I was curious if he was aware of the footwork scene prior to connecting with you.
DJ Rashad: Spinn and myself used to DJ parties on 47th Street in Chicago and Chance and his guys used to come. So he's been footworking and juking for a long time. It's funny because Chance actually reached out to us last year to do some tracks for his Acid Rap project. But we thought it was a different Chance - the one from that Flavor of Love show, so we didn't pay it no mind. But when we were in London we got up with Chance's DJ Oreo. He invited us to their show and I was like, "Damn this shit is hot." We met up, he asked about Spinn and I doing the tour, and we said "Hell yes."
NUVO: The variety of sounds on Double Cup are really rich, everything from jungle to acid house. I was curious what you've been listening to that influenced the direction of album?
DJ Rashad: I listen to everything from rap to R&B, jazz and rock. If it's good music I'll listen to it. If you heard my last album Welcome to the Chi, it was more footwork oriented. With Double Cup it was about trying something different. I love acid house, trap and jungle. I thought it be cool to mix those styles with our sound. It made sense because that music is similar to what we do. I wanted to show a smoother side on Double Cup. Some of the stuff is real chill, you can smoke or drink to it.
NUVO: Was there a particular style of music you heard as a kid that made you want to make music?
DJ Rashad: Yes, it was Chicago house music. I have to say Cajmere's "Percolator" really brought me into the scene. I was in 5th grade when I heard it. After that it was DJ Deeon and DJ Milton. Those guys are my idols and they're ghetto house music legends. They made me want to stop dancing and start producing and become a DJ.
NUVO: Your new album and tour are introducing a lot of people to footwork for the first time. Where do you want to take the footwork scene next?
DJ Rashad: As far as I can. But right now it's all about working on the States. In Europe and Japan they got it, they're on footwork. The U.S.A. really needs to catch up.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features tracks from the Chicago footwork scene.
1. DJ Rashad - Let U No
2. DJ Elmoe - Whea Yo Ghost At Whea Yo Dead Man
3. Traxman - Killing Fields
4. DJ Spinn - Horn Chemist
5. DJ Rashad - Show U How
6. DJ Trouble - Bangs and Works
7. Traxman - Off Them Bars
8. DJ Rashad - I Don't Give A Fuck
9. DJ Diamond - Ready Motha Fucka
10. Traxman - Chillll
11. DJ Spinn - What You Need
12. Rp Boo - Invisibu Boogie
13. Traxman - Funky Block
14. The Pope - When You
15. Traxman - 2200 Acid
16. DJ Rashad - Double Cup
17. DJ Rashad - On My Way
On Monday, Dec. 9, the Indianapolis Marion County City-County Council will vote on an anti-panhandling proposal that could effectively criminalize all variety of artistic street performance in the Downtown area and place severe limitations on artistic performance throughout the city. Like many other Indy-based artists, I find the harsh restrictions embedded in this proposal unacceptable and misguided. As I reviewed a copy of Proposal 143 on the indy.gov website recently, I was reminded of the importance street performance has had in my life.
I will never forget the first time I heard the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. It was 2005, and I was in Chicago on a record-buying mission and I decided to check out the Virgin Record's Megastore located on Michigan Avenue. As I approached the Magnificent Mile, I was transfixed by a faint strain of majestic brass music pushing through Chicago's bitterly cold December winds. Even from a distance it was one of the most glorious sounds I'd ever heard.
I wound my way through the maze of frigid city blocks eventually finding the source, a group of eight young men dressed in camo fatigues. They performed in perfect unison on a bustling street corner, immune to the din of honking cars, and noisy pedestrian traffic. Their music embodied an improbable mix of sounds, capturing the texture of jazz, the tough, rhythmic drone of hip-hop and the beautiful choral harmonies of Medieval madrigals and motets. I stood in amazement listening to the group for over an hour, shivering in the subfreezing temperatures alongside them. I would've stayed longer, but they called it quits for the day at sundown. I dumped whatever cash I had from my pocket into their tip jar and walked away astonished by their innovative sound.
Over the next year, I never missed an opportunity to visit Chicago in hopes of witnessing another street-side performance by the group. I caught them a couple more times in the Windy City before they relocated for extended residencies on the sidewalks of New York, Berlin and London. Despite achieving a respectable measure of success, Hypnotic stayed true to their street performance roots - even after being featured in a major New York Times piece, and collaborating with music royalty like Prince, Erykah Badu, Blur's Damon Albarn, The Wu-Tang Clan, Femi Kuti and Mos Def.
My fascination with Hypnotic wasn't the first or only time I've found myself seduced into traveling by the call of street musicians. For me, a big factor in visiting New York is always the thrill of discovering exciting new music as I navigate the sidewalks and subway corridors of the city. On my first trip, I was determined to catch a performance of traditional Chinese classical music. With Manhattan's Chinatown hosting the largest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere, I figured there must be a thriving Chinese music scene. I was wrong (or so I thought) as I scoured the city's guide books and event calendar listings for concert information and found nothing. But my disappointment was short-lived, as I discovered what I was searching for on the street, a soloist on the violin-like erhu crouched in front of a D line train stop and a four-piece ensemble performing an impromptu concert on a Chinatown side street.
Mayor Ballard claims the anti-panhandling Prop.143 was crafted to protect the interests of Downtown's business owners, but street performance can be a significant attraction for visiting shoppers, diners and tourists.
Cities like New York understand the value street performers can add to a thriving municipality. In 1985 the Metropolitan Transit Authority created Musicians Under New York, a program designed to advertise and promote the wide variety of performing artists working in the city's subway terminals. If only Indianapolis had this creative, visionary approach to problem solving - perhaps we wouldn't be pleading to allow street performers to maintain their right to work, we'd be finding new ways to allow them to flourish.
There's still time to have your voice heard on this issue, write your local local council-person and ask them to vote "no" on Prop. 143.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week features music from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.
1. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Jupiter
2. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Flipside
3. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Marcus Garvey
4. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Sanfoka
5. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - War
6. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Starfighter
7. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Kryptonite
8. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Spottie
9. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Tema do Canibal
10. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Pluto
11. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Fly
12. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Ancestral
13. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Ballicki Bone
I've been deeply saddened this week by the photos and stories coming from the Philippines detailing the tragic devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan. As of today, statistics report nearly 4,000 dead and over 12,000 left missing.
Unfortunately, most American media coverage of the Philippines only focuses on moments of tragedy or controversy on the archipelago. That's a shame, as the Philippines are home to a variety of unique and underexposed cultural traditions. It always surprises me just how overlooked Filipino culture is considering our long history with the nation and the large numbers of Filipino-Americans residing in the United States.
Here in Indianapolis, Filipinos rank behind Chinese and Indians as the third most populous Asian group in the city, composing 0.3 percent of Indy's population according to the 2010 census. That figure surprised me, as the Filipino community here never seems quite as visible as the considerably smaller Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese populations.
In consideration of this discrepancy, I wanted to devote a column to spotlight the incredibly rich Filipiino music scene. The music of the Philippines represents everything from distinct indigenous folk traditions to singular takes on Western genres like punk, hip-hop and jazz. The following list represents some of my favorite artists from these diverse genres.
As you read this column or go online to hear the podcast, I hope you'll consider making a donation to the typhoon relief efforts.
Freddie Aguilar - Anak (1978) Folk-rocker Freddy Aguilar exploded on the Filipino music scene when the title track from his debut LP became the biggest selling song in the nation's history. Backed by a lovely baroque string arrangement "Anak" is a must-hear Filipino track.
Asin - Masdan Mo Ang Kapaligirian (1978) Following in the folk-rock footsteps of Freddie Aguilar, Asin made history by incorporating indigenous Filipino folk instruments and tribal languages in their thoughtful, politically conscious compositions.
Juan Dela Cruz Band - Maskara (1974) A psychedelic masterwork by the leaders of the Pinoy rock scene. Maskara plays like a Filipino version of Cream's classic psych rock sound.
Eddie Munji - Pinoy Jazz (1978) A unique and pioneering attempt to fuse straight ahead jazz with elements of Filipino rhythm and instrumentation.
Bong Peñera - Batucada Sa Calesa (1977) Groovy Brazilian beats from the Manila jazz scene. A highly prized LP by acid jazz and rare groove collectors.
Please - Manila Thriller (1976) There was a fairly substantial funk and disco scene in Manila during the '70s, but LPs and 45s from the period are extremely rare and surprisingly there are no Pinoy funk reissues on the market. This German released LP by Please is probably the best known example of Filipino funk and soul.
Dead Ends - Damned Nation (1987) Punk rock hit big in the Philippines during the early '80s. The Dead Ends were the first underground punk group to release an LP in the country and my personal favorite Pinoy punk act. Their third LP Damned Nation is an acidic blast of hardcore noise.
Francis Magalona - Rap Is Francis M (1992) A pioneer of Pinoy rap music, Francis M's lyrics, rendered in both Tagalog and English, take on everything from drug addiction to the negative effects of colonization in the Philippines. Francis M is a noteworthy figure on the global hip-hop scene.
Pinikpikan - Atas (2001) A wild fusion of raw indigenous Filipino sounds and avant indie rock noise. Pinikpikan features the sound of the traditional Filipino gong ensemble known as kulintang.
Grace Nono - Dalit (2010) A brilliant performer who recreates indigenous Filipino folk song in a modern and highly artistic style. One of the most renowned vocalists working in the Philippines music scene today.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features classics from The Philippines.
1. Freddie Aguilar - Anak
2. Asin - Ang Bayan Kong
3. Juan Dela Cruz - Maskara
4. Juan Dela Cruz - Himig Natin
5. Wally Gonzales - Kailan Pa Kaya
6. Juan Dela Cruz - Palengke
7. Anak Bayan - Bangugot
8. Regalado - Pinoy Funk
9. Eddie Munji - Dandansoy
10. Joey Ayala - Magkaugnay
11. Grace Nono - Himayang Nahunlak
12. Kalayo - Padayon
13. Sindao Banisil - Kandulinan
14. Pinikpikan - Ani-Wana
15. Pinikpikan - Kalipay
16. Dead Ends - No System
17. Wuds - Sana Hindi Minsan Mo Lang Akong Tingnan
I used to sit up late at night with a boom box clutched tightly in my hands, feverishly scanning the radio dial in desperate hope of finding musical inspiration. Mostly I would spin the knob in vain, taking more interest in random patterns of AM static than anything masquerading as music on the perpetually commercial Indianapolis airwaves.
But, on occasion, I got lucky.
It's easy to forget how rare and magical it once was to discover a favorite new song or work of art. With the Internet, seemingly any experience we're seeking is just a click away. But the process of acquiring information used to be a bit more random and there was an element of luck at play. It was like looking up at just the right moment to see a shooting star flitter across the night sky.
I'll never forget the first time I heard Lou Reed's voice. It was 1990 and I was in the sixth grade. Up hours after bedtime on a school night with radio in hand, I laid awake restless, slowly turning the dial. I paused for a moment on Q95 to hear the last few seconds of a lifeless slab of arena rock fade out, bracing myself for the next blast of macho guitar riffing. But instead I was confronted with a bubbling jazz bass line and the droll delivery of Reed's voice rising from the speakers.
"Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she"
I sat transfixed, intensely absorbing each word as the song grew stranger and stranger. At eleven years old, this was the most powerful encounter I'd ever had with a work of art. I'd never heard sex, drugs, androgyny and race discussed in such a free and open manner.
"Walk on the Wild Side" provided me with a brief glimpse into an exciting underground world that I never knew existed, but had somehow been longing for. Reed's lovingly rendered portraits of the song's broken characters suggested an alternative to the banal lifestyles and restrictive moral codes touted by the dry mainstream culture of my suburban hometown.
In this way Lou Reed's voice has been ushering listeners into the underground of American counterculture for decades, and it will continue to do so for decades to come. Brian Eno once famously mused that although Reed's first Velvet Underground record only sold a few thousand copies, everyone who bought it formed a band.
I was fortunate to see Lou Reed in a rare Indianapolis appearance, a brief performance for 1990's Farm Aid benefit at the Hoosier Dome. I also had the privilege of spinning a night's worth of Lou Reed tunes at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the opening of Andy Warhol Enterprises in 2010.
Reed was a restless innovator throughout his career, constantly challenging his audience's expectations. My favorite work form his catalog, is his most experimental: the 1975 double LP Metal Machine Music. There's a misconception that Reed conceived the abrasive hour-long instrumental composition as a "fuck you" to his label or fans, but, to my ears, it's Reed's purest and most transcendent musical expression.
I put the LP on my turntable after hearing news of Reed's death Sunday afternoon and let the waves of ecstatic noise wash over the room. The fourth side of Metal Machine Music ends with a locked groove, causing the music to play on endlessly until the listener chooses to remove the needle from the vinyl. It seemed like a fitting way to acknowledge Reed's legacy - living on and on in a blast of eternal noise.
Kyle Long's weekly podcast will be posted on Wednesday.
The autumn season is upon us once again, ushering in a calendar full of holidays that always seem to generate an astonishingly tasteless display of cultural insensitivity.
First up is Columbus Day, where we celebrate the supposedly great deeds of a hapless sailor whose record of crimes against humanity stack up to one of the darkest chapters in human history. Then there's Thanksgiving, when we're perversely asked to celebrate the kindness and generosity of the Native American people who would become our victims in a long and brutal war.
And don't forget the holiday right in the middle. Halloween has somehow trumped all other holiday celebrations as the most vile expression of cultural insensitivity. Exactly when did this once innocent celebration of all things spooky turn into an anything goes free-for-all of degrading racial stereotypes? I don't know, but it seems to get worse each year.
These days no Halloween season is complete without stories of overprivileged frat boys parading through college campuses in black face. Then there are the hateful anti-Muslim themed outfits and the seemingly endless array of get-ups portraying demeaning Asian and Latino stereotypes.
While it's clear some of these costumes are intended to be offensive and cruel, there are many holiday revelers who naively make an insensitive costume choice completely blind to their error. An incident last Halloween forced me to take a deeper look at the holiday and the often offensive practice of cultural appropriation.
I was asked by a local immigrant rights group to DJ for their Halloween fundraiser. A few days before the event we found out that the bar hosting the party had asked all staff members to dress in "cowboy and Indian" themed attire. The news sparked a heated debate within the activist organization. Some members felt a group that existed to fight institutional racism shouldn't stand by silently in tacit support of this blatant example of insensitive cultural appropriation. So we decided to express our concerns to the bar's owner, a middle — aged, blonde, blue-eyed white male who complicated the issue by declaring that his great, great – grandmother was a Native American — and if he wasn't offended at the costume choice, why should we be?
The meeting ended in a stalemate and despite our concerns, we decided to go through with the party. But I continued to think about the bar owner's insistent claim that his family heritage — whether real or not — gave him the right to engage in cultural appropriation.
The conversation led me to question my own choices in life. So much of my work as a music columnist and a DJ involves an appropriation of cultures I have no direct lineage with. I've wondered before if I am being just as insensitive as we had deemed the bar owner to be.
I certainly hope not. All of my artistic activities are born from a love of the cultures I choose to work with and I'm motivated by an overriding desire to educate others about their significance and beauty. If I write an article about an Ethiopian musician or DJ a set of Ethiopian music, it's the product of years of lovingly motivated research.
Does that validate my use of cultural appropriation? I don't know. But I'm glad I had the occasion to ask that question and reflect on the idea. And I would ask you to do the same when contemplating your Halloween attire. And if you see a friend making an offensive costume choice, I would hope you'd ask them to reflect on the question too. If we ever hope to overturn the effects of America's relationship with oppressive racism we need to start by examining our own behavior.
"There is a strong line in all our music that can be traced back directly to Scrapper Blackwell. He was a truly great musician who did deserve more than was ever given him." - Bob Dylan
Growing up in Central Indiana I heard a lot of ghost stories. You might know them too - tales about Hannah House on Madison Avenue, the Haunted Bridge in Avon and Gravity Hill in Mooresville.
But there's a lesser known tale that's always stuck with me. A story about the murder of an old bluesman whose killer was never found. According to this legend you can hear the ghost of the old bluesman howling mournfully late at night in the Old Northside neighborhood where he was gunned down. I never took the tale too seriously - well, until I heard the full story of Scrapper Blackwell.
In the late 1920s, Scrapper Blackwell was part of an influential Indianapolis blues duo with singer and pianist Leroy Carr. Their debut recording, 1928's "How Long, How Long Blues," hit the market with a bang. Leroy Carr's smooth, laid-back croon was a million miles removed from the raw throat hollering of his rural southern counterparts. Blackwell's jazzy, single string solos broke the mold for blues guitar while anticipating the work of future performers like Charlie Christian.
They recorded over 100 more sides through the next few years; their popularity with the public was matched only by the influence they exerted on their musical peers. It's been said that the vocals of Leroy Carr were a key influence on the early work of Ray Charles and Nat King Cole.
But this story isn't about Leroy Carr. It's about the oft-neglected Scrapper Blackwell, who was frequently shortchanged when it came time to dish out credits. The guitarist's name was simply left off the label on many Carr and Blackwell releases.
This lack of recognition was a source of great consternation for Blackwell, causing the guitarist to seek out solo recording opportunities. It eventually contributed to the duo's breakup in 1935, shortly before Leroy Carr's death that same year.
Blackwell cut a dozen or so solo records in the '20s and '30s. His best-known composition from this period, "Kokomo Blues" (ostensibly written about the Indiana city), would later be modified by Robert Johnson as "Sweet Home Chicago," a standard of the blues repertoire.
Blackwell's solo career would not last long. The guitarist dropped out of the music business following the death of Carr, returning to the studio one last time in 1935 to record the touching tribute "My Old Pal Blues (Dedicated To The Memory Of Leroy Carr)."
At this point Blackwell simply disappeared, retreating into a life of anonymity in Indianapolis. Scrapper would not be heard from again until the late '50s, when a resurgence of interest in folk music led collectors and scholars to track down legendary musicians like Blackwell. It was during this period that Blackwell made his return to recording, culminating with the release of his greatest LP, the classic Mr. Scrapper's Blues.
The LP finds Blackwell in excellent form, from the rolling and tumbling "Little Boy Blue," to the soft piano-led "Little Girl Blues." Or instrumental tracks like "A Blues" and "E Blues," where Blackwell proves his guitar picking chops are still intact.
But for me, the highlight of the album is Blackwell's world-weary version of the Prohibition Era standard "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." Blackwell's reading sounds deeply personal, the lyrics closely mirroring the sharp rise and fall of his own career and his unique guitar arrangement of this standard would later be imitated by Eric Clapton almost note-for-note on Clapton's 1992 Unplugged LP.
"Once I lived the life of a millionaire
Spending my money, I didn't care...
But then I got busted and fell so low
I didn't have no money or nowhere to go"
Mr. Scrapper's Blues was well-received at the time of its release and it looked like Blackwell was on the fast track to restoring his career. But his story would not have a happy end. Within a year after the LP's release, Blackwell was shot and killed outside of his Downtown Indianapolis home. Police arrested Blackwell's neighbor at the time of the murder, but the case remains unsolved.
This October marks the 51st anniversary of Blackwell's death. Sometimes on cold autumn nights, I swear I can hear his mournful howl buried within the refrain of a gusty fall wind, crying out for the recognition his rich legacy has never received in the city he called home.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features classic recordings by Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. You can subscribe to the Cultural Manifesto podcast on Itunes here.
1. Scrapper Blackwell - Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
2. Scrapper Blackwell - Kokomo Blues
3. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - Blues Before Sunrise
4. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - Naptown Blues
5. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - Shining Pistol
6. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - Gettin' All Wet
7. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - I Believe I'll Make A Change
8. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - When The Sun Goes Down
9. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - Carried Water For The Elephant
10. Leroy Carr - Ain't It A Shame
11. Scrapper Blackwell & Dot Rice - My Old Pal (Dedicated To The Memory of Leroy Carr)
12. Scrapper Blackwell - Hard Time Blues
13. Scrapper Blackwell - My Dream Blues
14. Scrapper Blackwell - Where The Monon Crosses The Yellow Dog
15. Scrapper Blackwell - Shady Lane
16. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - How Long, How Long Blues
My obsession with record collecting has led me into many unexpected and non-musical detours. Of all these excursions, none have been quite so strong as my fascination with a local sign painter I knew simply as the Brush Master.
I initially encountered the Brush Master's work at a now defunct local record spot. For many years Frog's Record Mart was a fixture on the corner of College Avenue and 29th Street. It wasn't your average record shop. Aside from a few shelves of used LPs, Frog's was a typical inner-city corner store selling a variety of convenience foods and other random sundries.
My first experience shopping at Frog's would echo all my future visits. After digging through racks and racks of deservedly forgotten late-90s rap singles, I pulled out a pair of classic soul LPs - but the record was missing from the sleeve of James Brown's Black Caesar and the vinyl inside Donny Hathaway's Everything is Everything was in a state of unplayable wear. I never left Frog's with any remarkable finds, but that didn't stop me from going back.
On reflection I realize I was always drawn into Frog's by the elaborate signage surrounding the exterior of the building. The hand-painted signs advertised an amusingly diverse variety of items on sale, ranging from "hot rapp [sic]" to "nachos and pantyhose."
The signs outside Frog's would inevitably attract my attention anytime I journeyed down College Avenue. The style of the sign's painter eventually became embedded in my consciousness and I began noticing similar work in neighborhoods throughout Indianapolis. I quickly recognized these signs were all the creation of the same individual.
I soon began cruising through unfamiliar city terrain specifically to find new pieces by this mysterious crafts-person. I was seldom disappointed. From Martindale-Brightwood to Haughville, every commercial district of the inner-city seemed to bear an example of the artist's work. I was as captivated by the artistic design of these signs as I was their idiosyncratic presentation of information - like the "38th Street Men Club" inexplicably located at MLK and 16th, or the pool hall exterior admonishing loud talk and bad language.
The signs were often far more creative and artistically constructed than their utilitarian purpose required. For example, I remember Joe's Fish Market on the Old Northside. From top to bottom all four sides of the building's exterior walls were covered with the artist's landscape - a pastoral lakeside vista replete with lazy fisherman and frolicking wildlife. These signs added color and vibrancy to decaying inner-city neighborhoods ignored by city government beautification projects and public art programs.
When I noticed one of my favorite pieces had been painted over - an ambitious wall sized mural depicting a variety of soul food delicacies at a hole in the wall BBQ joint - I realized that I should start documenting the artist's unique work. The Iphone hadn't been invented yet, so I grabbed a disposable camera and got to work.
As I started this process I began to find that many of the pieces were signed by the artist, albeit in the form of a mysterious nom de plume - the Brush Master. I became fixated on the idea of finding the Brush Master. When I discovered a sign that bore a phone number in addition to the signature I knew I'd hit the jackpot. I rushed home to call only to find the number was disconnected.
I didn't lose hope. I started inquiring about the Brush Master at many of the shops that featured his work. But no one seemed to know anything about the artist. The following exchange I had with the owner of a blues club on North Keystone was the closest I came in my search for the mysterious painter. It also helped me gain perspective on my own interest in his work.
"Are you with the IRS or something?" the aging African-American proprietor asked in a suspicious tone as I inquired about the painter of the bar's sign. She'd seen me snapping photos outside and was understandably paranoid about a young white male encroaching on her territory with a list of questions.
"No," I replied. "Why are you out here taking pictures of my bar?," she countered. I thought for a second and tried my best to explain, "you know the sign you have out there? The guy who painted that has done work all over this city. The signs he created are as an important a part of my experience in Indianapolis as watching a Pacers game, or hanging around Downtown at Monument Circle. I just want to find him and thank him for making all this cool art." She shook her head and started to walk away, confident that I wasn't a fed, but certain that I was weirdo. "His name is Mississippi, he went back down South last I heard."
I'm not sure if the Brush Master is still around, I haven't seen a new piece by the artist in several years. But whenever I encounter one of his old works I'm reminded how the most mundane things can transcend their purpose when executed with style - even a simple sign for a shoeshine shop or nail salon.
Each edition of Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features a variety interesting new releases. You can subscribe to the Cultural Manifesto podcast on Itunes here.
1. Kyp Malone, Tunde Adebimpe, Kronos Quartet & Stuart Bogie - Sorrow Tears and Blood
2. Machinedrum - Vizion
3. Salaam Remi & Corinne Bailey Rae - Makin' It Hard for Me
4. Dean Blunt - Eight
5. Zomby - Memories
6. BANKS - This Is What It Feels Like
7. Sampha - Without
8. Laura Mvula - Green Garden (Dave Invisible Remix)
9. Machinedrum - See Sea
10. Souleance - Georgian Kiss
11. Four Tet - Parallel Jalebi
12. Alex Barck & Christine Salem - Oh Africa
13. Iamnobodi - Maputo Dance
14. Milton Nascimento - Tudo o Que Você Podia Ser (Aroop Roy Remix)
15. Mulatu Astatke - Motherland Abay
16. Kelela - Something Else
17. Zomby - Quickening
18. Kool And Kass - Peaceful Solutions
19. King Krule - Neptune Estate
20. Charles Bradley - Love Bug Blues
21. Shy FX & Liam Bailey - Soon Come
22. Mulatu Astatke - Azmari
23. Gregory Porter - Liquid Spirit
24. Ms. Lauryn Hill - Consumerism
When I mentioned to my friends that I might be interviewing Immortal Technique, the response was overwhelming. Everyone seemed to have an issue or question they wanted to hear the legendary MC address. During the nearly two year span I've been writing this column, I can't remember getting so much positive feedback about a potential story idea - a powerful testament to Tech's position as a respected voice for social justice in the hip-hop community.
Out of all the requests I received, I was particularly moved by one. My friend Lupe Pimental mentioned that Immortal Technique's "Poverty of Philosophy" had been the soundtrack to her personal initiation into activism. Lupe has been a big inspiration to me since 2011, when I saw her sacrifice her freedom while protesting a racist anti-immigration bill that was signed into law by then-Governor Mitch Daniels. Lupe and five other students were aggressively arrested by Indiana State Police while peacefully assembled in Daniels' office, simply hoping to explain how the bill would make college tuition fees unaffordable for undocumented youth.
So it only seemed fair to invite Lupe to address Tech herself as I headed to the Vogue to interview the MC before his Thursday night appearance last week. During our thirty minute talk Tech pontificated like a hip-hop Noam Chomsky, backing up his theories of racial equality and working class liberation with arcane historical facts.
NUVO: I write a lot about international issues in this column, so I wanted to ask about your 2008 trip to Afghanistan. You traveled there with Omeid International to help facilitate the opening of an orphanage in Kabul. What did you take away from this experience on a personal level?
Immortal Technique: I had been approached about doing this sort of project in a lot of other potential areas. The thing that triggered this was the people at Omeid International were actually from Afghanistan. They had the ability to facilitate the trip in ways that would have been impossible otherwise.
I wanted to set a precedent and show people if we can be successful in an area with the type of opposition you find in Afghanistan, what's to stop other people? We did this without any help, I didn't check in to any embassy and I didn't ask anyones permission to do this shit.
For me that trip was the ultimate trump card and I'm not looking for props from people. I think all forms of altruism are born ironically from some need to feel loved and wanted and embraced. Also ironically, I think all forms of selfishness and greed are justified through the idea that you're helping people. "I run a sweatshop but if I didn't have a sweatshop these people wouldn't have a job. They would starve and their economy would collapse." As if owning a million fresh water lakes and offering someone in the desert a cup of piss to drink makes you generous. You're not a humanitarian, you're not a charity and you've got no swagger to educate anybody. You are just taking advantage of downtrodden people.
It was interesting to see the monuments they left to the people who tried to conquer them. There were Russian armored cars and tanks and Taliban personnel carriers that were destroyed and left on the side of the road. Kind of as a guide to tell people, "you came here but you were not able to conquer us. We are the unbroken people."
But there's a catch 22 to that thinking. You are so willing to fight to the death to overthrow every oppressor that comes in, but in the process you will literally decimate the next two or three generations of doctors and lawyers, artists and musicians. The people that basically create Afghan culture have been wiped out.
When I look at that it brings me back to the foundation of what people were struggling for in the first place. I've seen many rebel groups that started out with a quasi-leftist view but then ended up confronting the economic reality of running a revolution and before you know it they are narco-terrorists. Oh yeah, you're for the people my nigga? But you sell cocaine and heroin? It's like if I was rapping about all this positive shit but at the end of the night I was robbing old ladies and date-raping school children. It negates all the good.
Obviously we heard horror stories from people. We went to Bin Laden's old hideout, we ran into people who were not friendly with us being there. But they were forced to acknowledge that we were not there as part of any government. We weren't trying to takeover or American-ize anybody. That wasn't the purpose, the purpose was to say we want to give you the ability to learn your own history. Revolutionaries don't talk to the people they talk with the people. It wasn't like I went there to bring them freedom, but I found freedom among them. Everywhere I went I learned something new, not just about the area but about myself.
It humbled me as a human being. I looked at all the things I had that I took for granted, all the people I had in my life. I thought about people here who bitch about not having the food they like to eat, when people there don't have food. You complain because you grew up without a father, go to an orphanage and see someone who grew up without a mother or father. It took me going to Afghanistan to really understand this.
NUVO: You travel a lot. During your trips to Afghanistan or Haiti do you have time to soak up any of the local music culture?
Immortal Technique: In Afghanistan they still had cassette tapes. I can't necessarily rock that. But it was interesting to hear the sounds they had, the instruments they used, the way they sang about love and the way their souls were torn. I was impressed and I found it ennobling.
Haiti was less violent than Afghanistan, but I saw more poverty if you could imagine that. Not to say that Afghanistan is not poor, it is very poor. When I went to Haiti it was shortly after the disaster. I saw people lined up for miles to fill up a one liter container of water. People were living in tent cities, four or five families living in one tent. Disease is rampant, there were outbreaks of cholera. That shit is from the 19th century. People are dying of diseases that could be prevented if they had gone to CVS in Indianapolis.
We did a show in Haiti with a lot of local hip-hop artists, myself, Cormega and Styles P. They showed us a lot of love. I speak a little French. I could communicate and they were really grateful.
NUVO: You say a lot of things the government doesn't like. You visit a lot of places the government prefers American citizens don't visit. I'm curious if you catch any flak or feel paranoid, particularly in light of all the NSA scandals?
Immortal Technique: I don't know about paranoia, but it's worth having a healthy amount of concern. But I'm not going to allow that to deter what I do. I'm not at home building a dirty bomb. I'm not trying to destroy America.
I want to demonstrate that the first Americans will not be taken for granted. We may not run America, but we make America run. Spanish was spoken on this side of the world before English was. There's a gigantic history of indigenous people here that never bowed to the Aztecs, never bowed to the Spaniards and never bowed to the Americans.
I want Americans to understand that this country was built on stolen land. For instance, look at the indigenous indians in Ohio. They were allies with the British during the war, yet when the British lost the war they ceded that territory to America. How? That shit didn't belong to you.
When the Mexicans lost their war with America, they ceded territory in California, New Mexico and Arizona that technically belonged to Native American people that had never been conquered. The Yaqui people had never been conquered - not even by the Aztecs. They fucked the Aztecs up and sent them home.
Whenever I travel I'm able to have these conversations with people. I'm able to open the door to individuals. I'm able to go to people and say it wasn't just black people that were slaves back in the day. A lot of white people came to America as indentured servants. They worked all day in the sun, and what did they have? Not a lot of melanin in their skin - so their back was white and their necks were red. An obvious tribute to their status as working class individuals. A plantation master is not going to marry his daughter to any of these poor white trash. He doesn't look at you as an equal, he uses you as a buffer between him and the brown and black workforce that built the infrastructure of America.
At this point I passed the mic to my friend Lupe who asked the following question.
Lupe Pimental: We suffer through many defeats in the battle for social justice. Sometimes I find that very discouraging. So I'm curious how you maintain your motivation?
Immortal Technique: What motivates me is hearing personal stories from people. Some of the stories aren't easy to listen to. After I perform "Dance With The Devil" I always give a speech about how rape is something that happens everywhere, not in some dark alley in the poorest parts of society. It happens at the most prestigious schools in America, the most prestigious organizations like the military. There's no higher honor in this country than being a military officer. They treat you like gold, yet look at the rape statistics in the military. When I talk about that people come up to me after the shows and say "that happened to me when I was a child and I always blamed myself." People tell me about their addiction issues. I hear things like "I was trying to get clean and I heard a song of yours talking about leaving the past and I wanted to get clean."
When I step back I'm motivated by people's personal struggles. That's what makes me want to do this. I wrote a lot of my songs not out of hatred, but out of love for people's concerns.
NUVO: What are your thoughts on immigration reform?
Immortal Technique: I have a song on my new album The Middle Passage that's structured toward the immigration issue. I don't think it's a controversial issue. The fact is the government is trying to disenfranchise people who have paid into America. They always say "immigrants are getting these services for free." Well you're getting a lot of labor for free. You're getting a lot of people who are paying into Social Security and they'll never get it back. People are paying into a system they'll never receive any benefit from.
I've met people from El Salvador and Mexico who are in the military and they are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Compare that to these chicken hawk conservatives who are clamoring for them to leave. Yo dude, when it was time for Vietnam where were the Sean Hannity's, the Ted Nugent's and the Bill O'Reilly's? Where was George Bush? The Texas Air National Guard - you think his daddy had nothing to do with that? They were scared. Just say you were scared to go to Vietnam homie, people were fucking dying every day. Every week there were 500 casualties. Think about how crazy that number is. The deadliest day in Afghanistan is about 28 causalities.
NUVO: I ask this question to a lot of people, from Chuck D to Bobby Seale. Do you think music is an effective medium to spread the message of social justice?
Immortal Technique: People always call me a "conscious" rapper, and I respond by saying that conscious doesn't mean you're going to do anything. If you took a survey of people in this city and asked them if they thought the government was corrupt, or if the president was a liar - most of them would probably say yes. But if you ask them what they are going to do about it, the answer is nothing. They're gonna go home and let the cable TV wash over their body. They're gonna leave it alone and forget it. That's the difference between being conscious and active. A lot of people are conscious but they are not physically doing anything about it.
Looking at it from that perspective it's hard to imagine that someone is going to be motivated by one thing I say. I think I can effect change in some ways, but I can't make the decision for someone to step out of themselves. All I can do is provide an example of a world that is fake, even though you might think it's real.
I have friends form Eastern Europe who are rabidly anti-communist and pro-American. They repeat false racial narratives delivered from a white supremacist perspective. I explain to them that in Eastern Europe the Russians held you by force after World War 2 for forty plus years. People were trying to get the hell out of all these places controlled by Russia. Even though the Russian's claimed they had a superior system to American capitalism, they still couldn't explain why all these people wanted to leave.
Just like the colonies in America when they first set up shop. You had a European colony run by people who claimed they were running away from religious persecution, but as soon as they got there they started religiously persecuting other people and telling them how to live. People used to leave in droves. They were leaving the colony to go live with the Native American people. Because the Native Americans didn't judge them as much. People were running away from them because they lied about every single reason that brought them here. "We want religious freedom and our own land." Yes, but in this capitalist society why are you so ashamed of those other reasons that brought you here? Why is this capitalist society so ashamed of its motives? Why are you ashamed to say you came here for gold? Why are you ashamed to say you came here for slaves? Why are you ashamed to say you're in it for the money?
Just deal with the reality that your fucking mythology is based on and then I can have a conversation with you as a regular human being. If my music can facilitate that conversation, then the choice for someone's change is up to them and it's not my responsibility to fix your fucking life.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features international underground hip-hop tracks from Africa to Latin America to the Middle East.
1. Criolo - Mariô
2. Baloji - Buy Africa
3. OQuadro - Balançuquadro
4. Ondatrópica - Suena
5. FOKN Bois - Only Your Walkings
6. Zuluboy - Siyoyisusa Siyimele
7. Karol Conka - Corre, Corre Erê
8. Didier Awadi - Roots
9. Art Melody - Farafina
10. Sadat & Alaa Fifty Cent - The Mixing Secret
11. Karol Conka - Boa Noite
12. Baloji with Konono N°1 - Karibu Ya Bintou
13. Bradez with Kwaw Kese - Wossop (Remix)
14. Ko-Jo Cue - Aden Koraa
15. Criolo - Grajauex
16. Ana Tijoux - Shock
17. Bamboo - Bibi Yangu
18. Smockey with Sibi Zongo - Fo Toumda Yè
I can't think of a contemporary band that could convincingly carry on after losing three of its most talented members. But legendary Cuban supergroup Buena Vista Social Club have done exactly that and seem to be doing so with ease. The prodigious skills and larger-than-life personalities of Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer and Rubén González helped to define Buena Vista Social Club's image and sound. After the trio's passing in the mid-2000s the group called on its deep reserves of talent and reformed as a touring unit under the name Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club.
The current 15-member lineup features four important artists from the original Buena Vista roster.
Omara Portuonda is known as the grand old lady of Cuban music. While her early recordings made her a star in Cuba, her participation in the the Buena Vista Social Club project brought her to international attention and established her reputation as one of Cuba's greatest musical ambassadors.
Manuel "Guajiro" Mirabal's distinctive musicianship have earned him the title as "the trumpet of Cuba." Throughout the '40s and '50s Mirabal played in many of Cuba's most popular bands, but didn't make his solo recording debut until 2004 at age 71. The self-titled album is a brilliant tribute to Cuban music icon Arsenio Rodriguez.
Eliades Ochoa is a master of the Cuban son style of music and a distinctive presence in the band with his trademark cowboy hat and unique harmonic guitar, a tres with added D and G strings.
And then, there's Barbarito Torres, a master of the laúd, a Cuban variation on the traditional Spanish lute. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Torres in advance of Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club's upcoming Indianapolis appearance.
"I began to play the laúd at 10 years old," he said. "My first contact with the laúd was through the music of the local campesinos or farmers. The laúd is traditionally the leading instrument in guajiro music, which is the music of the Cuban countryside."
Torres quickly mastered the instrument and began playing professionally at an early age.
"I started my career in my hometown Matanzas," he said. "I joined my first group Serenata Yumunina in 1970. I was 14 years old. We became known for our music broadcasts on the local station Radio 26."
While still a teenager Torres moved on to lead his own ensemble.
"After Serenata Yumunina, I started my own group Cuarteto Tradicional Matancero and I became the band's musical director."
After a brief interruption, Torres would soon make a move to Havana and join the ranks of the country's most prestigious musicians.
"In 1973, I went off to serve in the armed forces," Torres said. "But I continued to play in Latin American music groups during that time. After my release from the army, I eventually traveled to Havana and began playing campesina music there. I was playing on television and recording with many groups. Eventually I had an opportunity to join Grupo Manguaré, which is one of the most renowned music groups in Cuba. They formed in 1971, and they still continue to play. They've been recording campesina music for a long time and they were one of the first groups to establish the popularity of campesina and guajira music."
While in Havana Torres' musical virtuosity continued to open up big opportunities for him. He spent several years in the band of campesina music icon Celina González and became a member of Cuban supergroup The Afro Cuban All Stars.
These musical experiences eventually led Torres to what would become the defining moment in his music career.
"I started with Buena Vista in 1996," Torres said. "The band was multi-generational and it gave me an opportunity to meet and record with important musicians who were much older than me, like Compay Segundo, Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer and Cachao. I was one of the youngest members of the group at that time."
The project exceeded Torres' wildest expectations and gave him a chance to develop his solo career on the global stage.
"The album became a worldwide success, and the documentary film added to our popularity," Torres said. "The success of Buena Vista gave me an opportunity to have my first international solo release Havana Cafe in 1999 and the follow-up Barbarito Torres in 2003."
Thanks to Artur Silva for his help translating this interview.
Summarizing Eddie Palmieri's career in the space of one column is about as easy as eating a whole watermelon in a single bite. So I'll provide a brief introduction and jump straight into my recent conversation with the music legend.
Palmieri's daring harmonic experiments on the piano have established his reputation as one of the greatest soloists in the history of Latin jazz. In addition to his dazzling virtuosity, Palmieri is also an extraordinary musical innovator. His early work with his group La Perfecta laid the foundation for salsa music, while his album Harlem River Drive essentially invented the genre of Latin funk.
Palmieri's talent and musical achievements place him in an elite group of living American musicians. Palmieri's name can be mentioned comfortably alongside Bob Dylan's or Stevie Wonder's as an influential force in the development of American music.
At 76, Palmieri is the most quick-witted and entertaining musician I've ever interviewed, cracking jokes and reciting arcane historical facts at every turn. It seems the maestro is still on top of his game, a good indication that his upcoming performance at Jazz Fest should not be missed.
NUVO: It's an honor to speak to you. How are you and what are you working on currently?
Eddie Palmieri: I'm better than ever! It's a beautiful day in New York. I was in Europe earlier this year. We started the tour in Paris, France with our big band. Then we took the Latin jazz septet to Germany, Spain, Switzerland and even went as far as Serbia. It was an incredible tour and I'll be bringing my Latin jazz septet to Indianapolis for Jazz Fest.
Right now I'm now preparing for a big concert here in New York at Lehman College. I'm putting together a whole new presentation utilizing the batá drums. The batá drum is the most primitive of all African drums and it's the source of all those rhythmic patterns that have excited the world.
NUVO: You used the batá drum on your 1979 album Lucumí, Macumba, Voodoo which combined funk and disco with Afro-Latin percussion to tell a story about Santería and other forms of African religion in the Americas.
Palmieri: It didn't have so much to do with the religion. I know a little about that. Naturally I've researched it and I think pretty soon I'll be able turn my critics into hamsters with all the voodoo I learned in Santería. [laughs]
Seriously, that album was all about the drum and the rhythmical patterns that the batá players used for all the deities like Shango or Yemanja. This was all done in camouflage. When they brought the captive Africans into Cuba, they used the Catholic religion to camouflage their traditional beliefs. For instance they disguised Shango as Santa Barbara. They came up with incredible rhythmic patterns for all those deities to tell their stories.
Those Santería music patterns eventually evolved into dance music in the '20s and '30s and the Santería groups eventually became orchestras. The greatest dance bands the world has ever known in our genre came out of Cuba. Then Cuba influenced the United States through New York in the '40s and '50s with artists like Machito, the master Tito Puente and the two great singers Tito Rodríguez and Vicentico Valdés.
I played with Vicentico Valdés and Tito Rodríguez. I made a record with Tito Rodríguez in 1959 called Live at the Palladium. It was a tremendous album. It was danceable, but it was also Latin jazz.
NUVO: How long did you work with Tito Rodríguez?
Palmieri: I worked with Tito for two years. At that time he was trying to be like Desi Arnaz from I Love Lucy. He had his wife who was Japanese singing with him in a kimono. We went out to Vegas for a month, but that didn't work out. Then we went to California. He had prepared a show but it didn't turn out favorably for him. After I left in 1960 I formed my band La Perfecta and in 1962 he formed one of the greatest orchestras ever put together in New York City with Victor Paz on trumpet and Cachao on bass - an incredible orchestra.
NUVO: Your band La Perfecta changed Latin music with its heavy trombone sound. Music historians also say you were laying the foundation for what would later become salsa music.
Palmieri: First, I must say the term salsa is a misnomer. The best quote on that comes from Tito Puente. He said "Salsa is what I put on my spaghetti, baby." The reason I point that out is because these rhythmical patterns have their proper names. They all come from the mother rhumba. There was a lot of judgment placed on that word rhumba; it became synonymous with lower class people and women of the night. Yet this is the music that set the world dancing. Through their suffering, they brought happiness to the world, which is quite extraordinary.
NUVO: I have to ask about your 1971 album Harlem River Drive. I consider it one the best soul albums ever made, but it was a big departure from the Latin sound you were famous for.
Palmieri: It started with the lyrics written by Calvin Clash, who was a friend of mine. I'd been wanting to record a crossover album and Ronnie Cuber who was working in Aretha Franklin's band connected me with all these R&B musicians like Cornell Dupree and Bernard Purdie.
The album came out on the Roulette label. I was signed to a subsidiary of Roulette called Tico Records, but I asked the label owner Morris Levy to release the album on Roulette. Roulette had put out a lot of hits by artists like Tommy James and the Shondells.
I wanted to crossover, but it turned out the album's biggest fans were the Weathermen [laughs]. You know the political group who were rebelling against the government? They embraced it when they heard the lyrics on numbers like "Idle Hands," which are still relevant now and will be forever. The next thing we know the FBI and CIA are knocking on Morris Levy's door asking about the album. Morris called me and said "Mr. Palmieri, don't record that shit anymore."
That was the second time I attracted the attention of the FBI. The first time was for my album Mambo Con Conga is Mozambique. It was about the first Cubans coming over to the U.S. and I was accused of being a communist. [laughs]
NUVO: Did you have any idea Harlem River Drive would be so influential? I've read that War was very influenced by that album and it certainly set a direction for Latin funk in general.
Palmieri: I had a feeling when we were recording it. At the time I was taking classes in political economy, which is a theory based on the studies of Henry George who ran for Mayor of New York in the 1800s. He wrote a great book called Progress and Poverty. When Calvin Clash came to me with his lyrics, I knew it was quite complimentary to these studies - I was learning about this life and Calvin had lived it.
We were asking "why is there immense poverty next to immense wealth?" Poverty keeps getting worse, not only in the United Stated but all over the world. "Idle Hands" talks about the super rich who are in control. There's a great quote by Oliver Goldsmith. He said, "Law grinds the poor, and rich men rule the law." "Idle Hands" tells the story of how this happens and it's a hell of a statement. It became quite clear to us that we had something special.
NUVO: You went on to record two amazing live albums at Sing Sing Prison with the Harlem River Drive band. How did that come about and do you have any particular stand-out memories of that experience?
Palmieri: Well Calvin Clash was locked up in Sing Sing at the time. So we would go there to visit him. I remember before we started playing that show the A&R man from Tico Joe Cain, who was an Italian guy, came up to me and said "Eddie, 80 percent of the audience out there are black." I said "Joe, open the curtain," and we blew the place apart.
I played a lot of prisons in those years. I played Lewisburg when they brought in the people from Watergate. I played women's prisons. I played a prison in Colombia in South America. When I played Rikers Island they had a musical director at the prison. This guy was a friend of Dizzy Gillespie's and when I played Rikers, Dizzy came along as my master of ceremonies. When we came onto stage Dizzy says, "Before I bring on my Latin soul brother Eddie Palmieri, I want to ask him a question. Eddie, have you ever played for such a captive audience?" He brought the place down. [laughs]
NUVO: You've seen Latin music go through many changes during your career. What do you think of the current state of Latin music?
Palmieri: It's in an abysmal state. There is no Latin music anymore; you only have Latin pop. What they call salsa is a disaster. They took away the excitement of the dance orchestra. I suggest if you go out dancing with your partner today, bring pillows because they'll put you to sleep on the dance floor. You'll be bored to death.
They took away the tension and resistance, which is what gives you the excitement. Sex and danger are the exciters - the reaction of the human being is love and fear. All of these things should be inside the arrangements. You need a high degree of orgasm in the music. You need a high musical climax to create energy. It builds the momentum when the piano player takes a solo and passes it to the conga, bongo and timbales. That doesn't exist anymore. There are no more solos, except maybe a young guy singing who makes you want to pull the plug on the whole band.
NUVO: Musicians from your generation were passionate about educating audiences on the African roots of the music and exploring social justice themes. What changed?
Palmieri: Everything changes, that's why we have the four different seasons.
The youth went to hip-hop. There are no more bongo or conga solos. The rhythm might as well be on loop. It's the same rhythmic patterns in every song. They don't get out of the box, lets put it that way. There in that box, and there gonna stay in that box until the last nail goes into that salsa coffin.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features classic work from Eddie Palmier.
1. Eddie Palmieri - My Spiritual Indian
2. Eddie Palmieri - Lucumi, Macumba Voodoo
3. Eddie Palmieri - Vamanos Pa'l Monte
4. Harlem River Drive - Idle Hands
5. Eddie Palmieri - Ay Que Rico
6. Eddie Palmieri - La Malanga
7. Eddie Palmieri - Bomba de Corazon
8. Eddie Palmieri - Azucar
9. Eddie Palmieri - Palo Pa'Rumba
10. Eddie Palmieri - Mi Mambo Conga
11. Eddie Palmieri - Conga Yambumba
12. Eddie Palmieri - Que Sena La Orquestra
13. Eddie Palmieri - Bilongo
14. Eddie Palmieri - La Libertd Logica
15. Eddie Palmieri & Cal Tjader - Picadillo
16. Eddie Palmieri - Caminando
17. Harlem River Drive - Harlem River Drive (theme)
18. Eddie Palmieri - Somebody's Son
19. Eddie Palmieri - Mi Conga Te Llama (medley)
20. Eddie Palmieri - Un Dia Bonita
At the height of my record collecting days, I would buy anything on the King Records label. The Cincinnati-based indie was best known as the home of James Brown during his prime recording years. But throughout the '40s, '50s and '60s King released everything from gospel to rockabilly, and all of it was top notch.
I was digging through a box of 45s at a garage sale one summer day when I came across an unfamiliar King release. It was recorded by an obscure R&B singer named Mary Moultrie and the title intrigued me. "Last Year, Senior Prom (This Year, Vietnam)" the faded label read. I bought it and headed home to give it a spin.
It started off like a typical doo-wop era teen ballad. But as I listened closer to Moultrie's sweet young voice, the lyrics brought the song into a darker, more mature space. "It's spring again, wish you were here. How life can change in just a year," Moultrie begins. "A year ago tonight, we danced and you held me tight. Your letters say that you're doing fine, but I can read between the lines. Last year senior prom, this year, Vietnam."
The haunting innocence of the song and its mournful refrain brought tears to my eyes. It was one of the most moving anti-war songs I'd ever heard. But it wasn't created as an anti-war statement. Moultrie certainly wasn't an activist; she was a typical aspiring singer casting a hopeful eye toward the pop charts. Recorded in 1966, the song reflected a basic reality for many young African-Americans. A lack of access to opportunity had pushed blacks into military service at higher rates than their white counterparts.
Moultrie's ballad was one of literally hundreds of songs recorded in opposition to the Vietnam war during the '60s and '70s. It's a product of an era where the inherent cruelty and injustice of war were firmly embedded in the national consciousness. It was a time that brought the arts community together to rally the public against the civil and moral abuses of the industrialist war mongers. Great artists like Bob Dylan and Marvin Gaye created stirring protest anthems. While others like John Lennon and John Coltrane who may not have commented directly on the conflict were composing timeless anthems of love and peace. There was a general tone of resistance in the air that even trickled down to pop singers like Moultrie.
Fast forward to today. Over a decade spent fighting two failed wars has caused incalculable death and suffering, drained federal budgets and plunged us into economic crisis. And all this has largely been met with a general silence from the populace - and the arts community too.
We now sit on the verge of a new war and there is still silence. Polls indicate that the overwhelming majority of Americans are against military intervention in Syria. But why should Congress or the President take our concerns seriously when they can firmly place their confidence in our silent acquiescence?
It's clear the Syrian people need immediate assistance. But I must ask whether unleashing the American military industrial complex on Syria will alleviate or intensify the people's suffering.
Saddam Hussein was known as the "Butcher of Baghdad" during his cruel reign of terror. But when considering the death toll and atrocities committed under Iraq's occupation by the American industrialists, I'm forced to wonder if the Iraqi people would have been better off battling the monstrous Hussein on their own.
The American military industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in his eerily prescient 1960 farewell speech failed to bring peace and justice to Vietnamese people. It also failed to bring peace and justice to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and I have serious doubts it will bring peace and justice to Syria today.
Evidence suggests that the main benefactor in the aforementioned conflicts was the defense industry itself. Haliburton alone raked in over 17 billion dollars in revenue from the Iraq War. It seems we've foolishly ignored Eisenhower's advice to "guard against the unwarranted influence of the military industrial complex."
As we face the imminent threat of a new war, we desperately need the voices of the arts community to once again awaken the public. To inspire us to foment resistance against the abuses of corporate power that are plunging us into war, destroying our environment and robbing us of a sustainable future. I challenge all my fellow Indianapolis artists to raise their voice in protest against this corruption - even if your message is as simple as Mary Moultrie's 1966 lovesick plea. Sometimes it's the simple heartfelt declarations that stir our emotions most effectively.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features R&B songs of protest, peace and politics.
1. Staple Singers - Masters of War
2. Mighty Hannibal - Hymn No. 5
3. James Carr - Let's Face Facts
4. Parliament - Come In Out of the Rain
4. Isley Brothers - Ohio/Machine Gun
5. Stevie Wonder - You Haven't Done Nothin'
6. Curtis Mayfield - We Got To Have Peace
7. Carla Whitney - War
8. Edwin Starr - Stop the War Now
9. Sharon Jones - What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes
10. Sir Joe Quarterman - I Got So Much Trouble In My Mind
11. Ernie Hines - Our Generation
12. The Impressions - Stop the War
13. Terry Callier - Ho Tsing Mee (A Song of the Sun)
14. Jon Lucien - The War Song
15. Gil Scott-Heron - Did You Hear What They Sad
16. Bill Withers - I Can't Write Left Handed
17. The Dells - Does Any Body Know I'm Here
18. Larry Sanders - Where Did Peace Go
19. Swamp Dogg - Sam Stone
20. Eugene McDaniels - Freedom Death Dance
21. Funkadelic - Wars of Armageddon
22. Mary Moultrie - Last Year, Vietnam (This Year, Senior Prom)
It was nearly 20 years ago, but I remember like it was yesterday. The high point of my short-lived academic career.
It was the first semester of my freshman year at the high school I would soon be dropping out of and art was my first period class. Our teacher, Mr. Melevage, kept a small tape player on his desk. He typically played only classical music, so it wasn't odd to hear the sound of an orchestra tuning up as I wandered into class groggy-eyed in the morning. But it wasn't Bach's Brandenburg Concertos emanating from the tape deck this time. It was the famous intro to The Beatles' psychedelic masterpiece Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I sat transfixed for the next 40 minutes as a majestic carnival of audio delights poured out of the tiny speakers. This was my first experience with The Beatles' music, or psychedelic music period. The consciousness-expanding attitude of the LP was the perfect antidote to the unbearable conservatism of the suburban wasteland I felt so trapped in. That experience changed my life and initiated my obsession with psychedelic music and art.
That obsession was reignited last Saturday at Garfield Park as I caught the final moments of the Cataracts Music Festival. I arrived late as the festival was winding down. Following the sound of the music, I struggled to find my way through the darkness. I walked toward some lights flickering on the horizon, which turned out to be a performance featuring Friar Sonny und die Berlin Wallflowers. As I approached the band, I was reminded of the famous scene in Tarkovsky's 1966 film classic Andrei Rublev where the movie's protagonist accidentally wanders into a primitive medieval pagan ritual during his nightly walk. The monk Rublev finds himself seduced by the mysterious sensuality of the ceremony he witnesses.
Friar Sonny and band were draped in ancient tunics and flowing dashikis and jamming on a droning, Eastern groove. The psychedelic light show was the only source of illumination in the whole field. As I stood among the gyrating bodies I was transported back to the late 1960s, a time when psychedelic sounds ruled the Indiana rock scene. The Hoosier state produced some of the best underground psychedelic music of the era. So if you're still catching a buzz in the afterglow of Cataracts, then I hope this list of legendary Indiana psych bands will help you continue your trip.
Zerfas - Zerfas (700 West) In the words of local psychedelic music scholar Stan Denski, this self titled LP by Zerfas is "The Sgt. Pepper of the Midwest." Produced and released by the New Palestine-based 700 West Records the LP received little attention until it was rediscovered by the collectors community in the 1990s. "They were a gifted teenage band in a studio with limited technology, using every trick in the book to craft a record that offers surprises with every passing second," Denski says.
Sir Winston and the Commons - We're Gonna Love (Sundazed) This reissue EP collects all releases by one of Indianapolis' best and most important psych/garage acts. "We're Gonna Love" is a fuzz guitar, garage rock classic.
Anonymous - Inside the Shadow (A Major Label) Sir Winston guitarist Ron Matelic recorded this amazing private press LP in 1976. The vocals of Marsha Ervin recall Fairport Convention's Sandy Denny and the band's music has earned comparisons to classic Fleetwood Mac.
Primevil - Smokin' Bats at Campton's (700 West) Heavy psych in the vein of Mountain or Black Sabbath.
Oscar and the Majestics - No Chance Baby (Sundazed) An essential collection of tough, fuzzed-out, blue-eyed soul from Northwest Indiana's premier rock outfit.
Funk Inc. - Chicken Lickin' (Prestige) Funk Inc. are famous for their groove driven soul-jazz sound. But the simmering psychedelic guitar work of Steve Weakley earns them a spot on this list. The paranoid "They Trying To Get Me" rivals Eddie Hazel's furious guitar work on the Funkadelic classic "Maggot Brain" and contains what might be the greatest guitar solo ever pressed to wax by an Indianapolis band.
Coven - Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls (Mercury) Debut release from Indy's satanic rock pioneers. The LP contains a 13-minute recording of an actual satanic mass. Singer Jinx Dawson deserves wider recognition as an influential female rock personality.
The Olivers - Complete Recordings (Break-A-Way) Includes their 1966 classic "Beeker Street" an incredible blast of psychedelic madness from the Fort Wayne-based group.
Ebony Rhythm Band - Soul Heart Transplant (Now Again) Includes the manic psych classic "Drugs Ain't Cool," the band's winning entry in an anti-drug music competition sponsored by then mayor Richard Lugar. According to an interview I did with Ebony bassist Lester Johnson the band promptly "went out and bought about $350 bucks worth of weed with the anti-drug money."
Various - Psychedelic States: Indiana In The 60s Vol. 1(Gear Fab) This essential 2006 comp collects 28 impossibly rare mid 60s psych/garage burners.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features a variety of classic Indiana psychedlic rock.
1. The Olivers - Beeker Street
2. Sir Winston and the Commons - We're Gonna Love
3. Oscar and the Majestics - Got To Have Your Lovin'
4. Zerfas - You Never Win
5. Anonymous - J. Rider
6. Coven - White Witch of Rose Hall
7. Primevil - Hey Lover
8. Endd - Project Blue
9. Blues Inc. - Get Off My Back
10. Oscar and the Majestics - House of the Rising Sun
11. Ebony Rhythm Band - Drugs Ain't Cool
12. Zerfas - Fool's Paradise
13. Endd - Come On In To My World
14. Sir Winston and the Commons - Not the Spirit of India
15. Anonymous - Shadow Lady
16. Funk Inc. - They Trying To Get Me
17. Zerfas - Hope