Tag: Bonnaroo

 

 

Now, throughout the course of this site’s eight year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the Brooklyn-based collective Red Baarat, and as you may recall, the act, which derives its name from baraat, a wild South Asian wedding procession that often features the groom riding a horse, an enormous group of extended friends and family, singing and dancing to music led by a brass band with drummers, and what the color red symbolizes in both Indian/South Asian and Western cultures — fiery, red-blooded passion. And with the band, they view it as the passion they have towards creating and playing music, as well as the passion they inspire and elicit from fans and others, who catch them live. Led by Rochester, NY-born, Brooklyn-based bandleader, dholi, drummer and composer Sunny Jain, and featuring John Altieri (sousaphone), Ernest Stuart (trombone), Jonathon Haffner (saxophone), Sonny Singh (trumpet), Chris Eddleton (drums), Rohin Khemani (drums), and their newest member Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), the collective originally formed in 2008 — although it wasn’t until the release of their critically applauded and commercially successful sophomore effort Shruggy Ji that the band received widespread attention for a seamless and genre defying sound that draws from Indian classical music, bhangra, hip-hop, rock, pop and New Orleans brass. And as a result of Shruggy Ji‘s critical and commercial success, the collective has made appearances at Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD Festivals in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, have played sold out headlining shows at the Luxembourg Philharmonic, the Bowery Ballroom and have performed at the request of The White House, TED and the Olympic Games.

Slated for release at the end of the month through Rhyme & Reason Records, Red Baraat’s Little Shalimar and Sunny Jain co-produced Sound The People reportedly continues the band’s exploration of South Asian culture and music but while placing in within a larger context of an increasingly globalized generation, reflected by the diverse background of its individual members. Adding to the global focus, the album features guest spots from Pakistani singer and writer Ali Sethi, Das Racist’s Heems, American poet and activist Suheir Hammad and American humorist John Hodgman. “With the migration that’s happened, there is all this varied and expressive music that has erupted from the South Asian Diaspora,” says Jain. “Sound The People is a shoutout to, and celebration of this community around the world.”

Jain began writing Sound The People‘s material a few short weeks after Trump’s election victory, and as she says in press notes, “the record is a call to action against the various inequalities and injustices that we’re seeing. We desperately need citizen engagement in response to those injustices.” Earlier this month, I wrote about album single “Kala Mukhra,” which featured Ali Sethi contributing his sonorous baritone — but as Jain explains, the song is ” . . . our take on a Punjabi folk song called ‘Ghora Mukhra.’ I first heard this song a couple of years ago when Ali Sethi shared a 1950s recording with me, featuring the acclaimed ghazal singer Iqbal Bano, with a brass band. I’ve heard very few Punjabi brass band recordings featuring a vocalist and so when Red Baraat was gearing up to work on a new album, it seemed fitting to try and see what we could do with this song. The meaning of Ghora Mukhra literally means “white face.” There’s a fetishization in South Asian culture about being fair-skinned or light-skinned, something that is pressed upon women. It’s ridiculous, but this kind of nonsense is witnessed throughout the world to varying degrees. So while we loved the melody and brass band flavor of this song, we needed a different narrative. I asked Ali if he could come up with some lyrics that are more aligned with our beliefs and also reflective of the times we are living in.” And while being a propulsive and densely arranged song, the song manages to be a boldly and proudly defiant and danceable track that will remind listeners that music holds a profound and true power.

Album title track “Sound the People” which finds the acclaimed collective collaborating with Heems is a swaggering, hip-hop inflected take on their sound; but it’s also the most overt politically charged song they’ve released to date, as the song touches upon race, the connectedness of the South Asian Diaspora despite the age-old differences in religion, culture, regional or nationalistic identities and so on. The song brings up a key fact that despite the fact that the listener may be Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Afghani, Bhutanese, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and so on and so on, that in the age of Trump and other right wing nationalist/nativist movements, that they’re brown — and that unity and empathy among other people of color and other marginalized communities is the only way that to ensure survival in our dire and frightening times.  But along with that it’s an urgent call to arms that says “time to unite and fight through music, dance, art, love, humor, empathy and everything else you can throw. All hands on deck!”

“Heems and I met several years ago when he was still doing Das Racist,” Red Baraat’s Sunny Jain recalls. “When Red Baraat started working on the new album, there were various ideas I had about [the] South Asian Diaspora, migration and Trump’s disconcerting victory, but it hadn’t all been tied together just yet. I shared all of this with Heems and also sent him a couple of songs I had composed specifically thinking about his flow. The band was tracking for a few days at Studio G in Brooklyn and I asked Heems to come in and lay down a rap. He turned up in the studio and did his thing and that’s when we all realized, ‘Holy crap! This is the title track!’ He pulled the whole album concept together with those words.”

The members of Red Baraat have a long-held reputation for being relentless road warriors and they’re about to embark on a lengthy world tour that will include a June 8, 2018 stop at Flushing Town Hall. Check out the tour dates below.

TOUR DATES:
6/8 – Flushing, NY – Flushing Town Hall
6/11 – Camden, NJ – Sunset Jazz Series at Wiggins Waterfront Park
6/22 – Los Angeles, CA – The Satellite

6/25 – Mill Valley, CA – Sweetwater Music Hall

6/26 – Oakland, CA – The New Parish
6/28 – Saskatoon, SK – SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival
6/29 – Saskatoon, SK – SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival
6/30 – Victoria, BC – TD Victoria International JazzFest | Centennial Square
7/1 – Vancouver, BC – TD Victoria International JazzFest | David Lam – Park Main Stage
7/25 – Reno, NV – Artown
7/27 – Denver, CO – Clyfford Still Museum Summer Series

7/28 – Basalt, CO – The Temporary
8/11 – Greensboro, NC – Lebauer Park
8/13 – Asheville, NC – The Grey Eagle
8/16 – Madison, WI – The Central Park Sessions
8/17 – Detroit, MI – The Cube at the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center

 

Throughout the course of this site’s eight year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the Brooklyn-based collective Red Baarat, and as you may recall, the act, which derives its name from baraat, a wild South Asian wedding procession that often features the groom riding a horse, an enormous group of extended friends and family, singing and dancing to music led by a brass band with drummers, and what the color red symbolizes in both Indian/South Asian and Western cultures — fiery red-blooded passion; in the case of the band, the passion they have towards creating and playing music, as well as the passion they inspire and elicit from fans, who catch them live. Led by Rochester, NY-born, Brooklyn-based bandleader, dholi, drummer and composer Sunny Jain, and featuring John Altieri (sousaphone), Ernest Stuart (trombone), Jonathon Haffner (saxophone), Sonny Singh (trumpet), Chris Eddleton (drums), Rohin Khemani (drums), and their newest member Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), the collective formed in 2008 — although it wasn’t until the release of their critically applauded and commercially successful sophomore effort Shruggy Ji that the band received widespread attention for a seamless, genre defying sound that draws from Indian classical music, bhangra, hip-hop, rock, pop and New Orleans brass.

The band’s sound and aesthetic is centered around Jain’s utopian vision and faith in the power of music and art instilling empathy, creativity and love to anyone who accepts it with an open heart and mind. Of course, as a result of Shruggy Ji‘s critical and commercial success, the collective has made appearances at Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD Festivals in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, have played sold out headlining shows at the Luxembourg Philharmonic, the Bowery Ballroom and have performed at the request of The White House, TED and the Olympic Games.

Slated for a June 29, 2018 release through Rhyme & Reason Records, Red Baraat’s Little Shalimar and Sunny Jain co-produced Sound The People reportedly finds the band managing to continue their exploration of South Asian culture while placing it within the context of a globalized generation,  reflected by the diverse backgrounds of its members. Interestingly, Jain began writing the album’s material a few short weeks after Trump’s election victory, and as he says in press notes, “the record is a call to action against the various inequalities and injustices that we’re seeing. We desperately need citizen engagement in response to those injustices.” Adding to the global focus, the album features guest spots from Pakistani singer and writer Ali Sethi, Das Racist’s Heems, American poet and activist Suheir Hammad and American humorist John Hodgman. “With the migration that’s happened, there is all this varied and expressive music that has erupted from the South Asian Diaspora,” says Jain. “Sound The People is a shoutout to, and celebration of this community around the world.”

Sounds The People‘s latest single “Kala Mukhra,” features Ali Sethi contributing his sonorous baritone and is as Jain explains, “. . . our take on a Punjabi folk song called ‘Ghora Mukhra.’ I first heard this song a couple of years ago when Ali Sethi shared a 1950s recording with me, featuring the acclaimed ghazal singer Iqbal Bano, with a brass band. I’ve heard very few Punjabi brass band recordings featuring a vocalist and so when Red Baraat was gearing up to work on a new album, it seemed fitting to try and see what we could do with this song. The meaning of Ghora Mukhra literally means “white face.” There’s a fetishization in South Asian culture about being fair-skinned or light-skinned, something that is pressed upon women. It’s ridiculous, but this kind of nonsense is witnessed throughout the world to varying degrees. So while we loved the melody and brass band flavor of this song, we needed a different narrative. I asked Ali if he could come up with some lyrics that are more aligned with our beliefs and also reflective of the times we are living in.” And while being a propulsive and densely arranged song, the song manages to be a boldly and proudly defiant and danceable track that will remind listeners that music holds a profound and true power.

The members of Red Baraat have a long-held reputation for being relentless road warriors and they’re about to embark on a lengthy world tour that will include a June 8, 2018 stop at Flushing Town Hall. Check out the tour dates below.

TOUR DATES:
5/7 – London, UK – Rich Mix
5/8 – Bristol, UK – The Louisiana
5/11 – Caceres, ES – WOMAD Caceres
5/12 – Madrid, ES – Sala Clamores
5/13 – Barcelona, ES – Club Marula
5/14 – San Sebastian, ES – Club Dabadaba
5/15 – Zaragoza, ES – Sala Las Armas
5/16 – Santander, ES – Sala BNS
5/17 – Bilbao, ES – Kafe Antzokia
5/18 – Paris, FR – New Morning Jazzclub
5/19 – Brussells, BE – Jam’in Jette Festival

5/20 – Nijmegen, NE – Music Meeting
5/22 – Wels, AT – Alter Schlachthof
5/24 – Vienna, AT – Wiener Konzerthaus
5/26 – Austin, TX – 3Ten @ Austin City Limits Live
5/27 – Dallas, TX – Soluna Intl Music & Arts Festival | Klyde Warren Park
6/8 – Flushing, NY – Flushing Town Hall
6/11 – Camden, NJ – Sunset Jazz Series at Wiggins Waterfront Park
6/22 – Los Angeles, CA – The Satellite

6/25 – Mill Valley, CA – Sweetwater Music Hall

6/26 – Oakland, CA – The New Parish
6/28 – Saskatoon, SK – SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival
6/29 – Saskatoon, SK – SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival
6/30 – Victoria, BC – TD Victoria International JazzFest | Centennial Square
7/1 – Vancouver, BC – TD Victoria International JazzFest | David Lam – Park Main Stage
7/25 – Reno, NV – Artown
7/27 – Denver, CO – Clyfford Still Museum Summer Series

7/28 – Basalt, CO – The Temporary
8/11 – Greensboro, NC – Lebauer Park
8/13 – Asheville, NC – The Grey Eagle
8/16 – Madison, WI – The Central Park Sessions
8/17 – Detroit, MI – The Cube at the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center

 

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Currently comprised of Gilbert Elorreaga, Mark Gonzales, Greg Gonzalez, Josh Levy, Sweet Lou, Beto Martinez, Adrian Quesada, John Speice and Alex Marrero, the Austin, TX-based act Brownout was formed ten years as a side project featuring members of the Grammy Award-winning Latin funk act Grupo Fantasma, but interestingly enough, the project has evolved into its own as a unique effort, separate from the members’ primary gigs. Over the past few years, the act has garnered critical praise — they won their third Austin Music Award last year, while composing and arranging work that’s unflinchingly progressive while evoking the influences of WAR, Cymande and Funkadelic. Unsurprisingly, the members of Brownout have been a highly-sought after backing band,  who have collaborated with GZA, Prince, Daniel Johnston and Bernie Worrell, and adding to a growing profile, they’ve made appearances across the major festival circuit, including Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, Pickathon, Bear Creek Musical Festival, Utopia Festival, Pachanga Fest, and others.

Throughout the course of this site’s history, I’ve written quite a bit about the Austin-based act, and as you may know, the band has released five full-length albums: 2008’s Homenaje, 2009’s Aguilas and Cobras, 2012’s Oozy, 2015’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath and 2016’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath, Vol. II — with their last two albums Latin funk interpretations and re-imaginings of the legendary work of Black Sabbath. Of course, during their run together, Brownout has released a handful of EPs, including 2017’s critically applauded Over the Covers, their first batch of original material in some time.

As a child of the 80s, hip-hop was a nothing short of a revelation to me and countless others. Every day after school, I practically ran home to catch Yo! MTV Raps with Ed Lover and Dr. Dre and BET’s Rap City and during the weekends I’d catch Yo! MTV Raps with the legendary Fab 5 Freddy  — all to catch Run DMC, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Biz Markie, Das EFX, A Tribe Called Quest, X Clan and Public Enemy among an incredibly lengthy list. (Admittedly, I didn’t watch Rap City as much. Even as a kid, I hated their host and I found their overall production values to be incredible cheap. Plus, I really loathed how they almost always managed to either cut to a commercial or the end credits during the middle of a fucking song — and it was always during your favorite jam. Always.) 28 years ago, Public Enemy released their seminal album Fear of a Black Planet, and unsurprisingly, the album wound up profoundly influencing the future founding members of Grupo Fantasma/Brownout. The band’s Greg Gonzalez (bass) remembers how a kid back in junior high school hipped him to the fact that Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” was built on James Brown samples. As a teenager, Beto Martinez (guitar) speaks fondly of alternating between hip-hop and metal tapes on his walkman (much like me). And Adrian Quesada remembers falling in love with Public Enemy and their sound at an early age. “When I got into hip-hop, I was looking for this aggressive outlet . . .,” Quesada says in press notes, “and I didn’t even understand what they were pissed off about, because I was twelve and lived in Laredo . . . but I loved it, and I felt angry along with them.”

So as true children of the 80s and 90s, the members of Brownout, with the influence and encouragement of Fat Beats‘ Records Joseph Abajian have tackled Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet — with their own unique take on the legendary material and sound. And although they were eager to get back to work on new, original material, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay homage to one of their favorite acts. As Abajian says in press notes “I thought their sound would work covering Public Enemy songs.” He adds “it was good to know they were P.E. fans . .  We came up with a track listing and they went to work.”

Understandably, translating sample-based music to a live band turned out to be more challenging than everyone anticipated. Quesada tried to get into the heads of the legendary production team the Bomb Squad in order to reinterpret Public Enemy’s work. “Imagine the Bomb Squad going back in time and getting the J.B.’s in the studio and setting up a couple analog synths and then playing those songs.” And while some songs closely hew to the original, other songs use the breakbeats as a jumping-off point for Mark “Speedy” Gonzales’ horn arrangements, synth work by Peter Stopchinski and DJ Trackstar‘s turntablism. “Our approach is never in the tribute sense,” Adrian Quesada explains. “We’ve always taken it and made it our own, whether it’s the Brown Sabbath thing or this Public Enemy thing.”

Fear of a Brown Planet comes on the heels of several Brown Sabbath tours, and while being an incredibly tight and funky band, the members of the band are incredibly psyched to bring revolutionary music to the people, especially in light of both the current   social climate and that they’re not particularly known for having an overt political agenda. “If there’s any way that we can use the already political and protest nature [of P.E.’s music], we would like to try,” Beto says. “The album’s title, Fear of Brown Planet is definitely a relevant idea today and we’re not afraid to put it out there, because we want to speak out.”

Fear of a Brown Planet‘s first single is Brownout’s take on “Fight the Power,” and while retaining the breakbeats that you’ll remember fondly, their instrumental take is a funky JB’s meets Booker T-like jam, centered around an incredible horn line, bursts of analog synth and sinuous guitar line. As a result, Brownout’s take is warmly familiar but without being a carbon copy; in fact, they manage to breathe a much different life into the song without erasing its revolutionary sound or its righteous fury. Check out how it compares to the original below.

New Video: Soulive Returns With Soulful and Psychedelic Genre-Defying Composition from Forthcoming Film Soundtrack-Inspired EP

Consisting of Eric Krasno (guitar) and siblings Alan Evans (drums) and Neal Evans (Hammond B3 organ, bass keys, clavinet), the renowned genre-defying funk/jazz New York-based trio Soulive can trace their origins back to when the Evans Brothers began performing in a number of regionally known acts including the jam band Moon Boot Lover and a brief stint with rap act The Elements, which featured Edreys, a.k.a. Billy Drease Williams before they began looking to start a traditional jazz organ trio. And as the story goes, in March 1999, the Evans Brothers invited their high school pay Eric Krasno to jam and record some tracks with them at their home studio in Woodstock, NY, and those sessions wound up comprising their debut EP Get Down! 

Shortly after the release of Get Down! the newly formed band hit the road touring to support it. During that first tour, the trio recorded their full-length debut Turn It Out and the effort, which was released in 2000 through Velour Recordings featured and impressive array of guest musicians including renowned jazz guitarist John Scofield, multi-instrumentalist Oteil Burnbridge, best known for a lengthy stint in the Allman Brothers Band, and saxophonist Sam Kininger, who has collaborated with Lettuce, Dave Matthews Band and others. For an independent act, their full-length debut went on to sell over 65,000 copies, which quickly established the members of Soulive as one of contemporary jazz and funk’s most exciting, new acts. By the fall of 2000, Soulive had signed a record deal with Blue Note Records, with whom they released their sophomore effort Doin’ Something, which featured horn arrangements by the legendary Fred Wesley; their third, full-length album Next, which featured guest spots from Dave Matthews, Amel Larrieux, Talib Kweli and Black Thought. They also collaborated with singer/songwriter Goapele Mohlabane.
Building upon a growing profile, Soulive went on five national tours over the next three years, opening for The Rolling Stones, Dave Matthews Band, The Roots, Common, John Mayer and others, while making appearances at Monterey Jazz Festival and Bonaroo, as well as tours across Japan and the European Union; in fact, one of their Japanese tours wound up becoming their eponymous and highly acclaimed, self-titled live album, released in 2003. And before leaving Blue Note Records, the members of Soulive released the Turn It Out Remixed album, which featured Jurassic 5, DJ Spinna, DJ Krush, J-Live, Wordsworth and The Beatnuts.

2005’s Break Out, the New York-based jazz/funk act’s first album with new label Concord Music Group found the band experimenting with their sound and approach, as they eschewed extended and free-flowing jams for beat-driven instrumentals; but along with that, they collaborated with the legendary Chaka Khan, Ivan Neville, Living Colour’s Corey Glover, Robert Randolph and comedian and multi-instrumentalist Reggie Watts. 2006’s Stewart Lerman-produced No Place Like Soul featured Boston, MA-based reggae/soul artist Toussaint as their lead vocalist; however, after that tour the band decided to return to being a trio. In fact, 2009’s Up Here was something of a return to form for the band with the material mainly being instrumentals with the members of Soulive collaborated with The Shady Horns — the aforementioned Sam Kininger (alto sax) and Rashawn Ross (trumpet) — and Nigel Hall.

Now, I personally became familiar with Soulive with 2010’s Rubber Soulive, an effort that comprised of jazz and funk-inspired renditions of the Beatles catalog — and their annual multi-week residency Bowlive, which featured the band collaborating with an incredibly diverse and dynamic array of artists. Interestingly, the members of the band have been busy with their respective projects — in particular Soulive’s Eric Krasno has been with Lettuce, an increasing production load and his own solo work; however, the members of the band reconvened at Alan Evans’ Iron Wax Studios in late 2017 with a few loosely-sketched ideas and no overarching concept in mind, and began fleshing out ideas as a band. “We trust each other to bring our voices to each other’s ideas,” says Alan Evans, while Krasno adds, “I think Soulive creates our best material using that method.”

The end result is the trio’s long-awaited Cinematics, Vol. 1 EP, which the band will be releasing through their own label Soulive Music on February 23, 2018. Although it’s the first new material from the renowned act in over six years, as you’ll hear on the EP’s first single “Kings March,” Soulive further cements their reputation for a genre-defying sound — in this particular case, the composition draws from 60s funk, psych pop, psych rock, hip-hop and jazz and it finds the band doing so in a fashion reminiscent of El Michels Affair and Wu Tang Clan; but with an incredibly cinematic fashion, as though it could have been part of the soundtrack of a rainy, spy thriller set in Eastern Europe and Miami.

Reportedly, the cinematic quality of the music arose from the trio’s collective instincts writing and recording together. “We didn’t have to talk about anything,” Alan says. “It all unfolded as we were working on it; one song influences the direction of the next, and soon you find yourself going down this path. We want this music to take people on a little journey.” Adds, Eric Krasno, “A cinematic piece of music creates a mood. Film composers like Jerry Goldsmith, David Axelrod, Ennio Morricone and Melvin Van Peebles were all influential in the concept for Cinematics. The idea is to use soundscape and melodic interplay to enhance the feeling and sentiment of a visual and to amplify the emotion that it’s relating.”

The recently released video features rather black and white intimate footage of the band, along with some appropriately psychedelic imagery. 

Live Footage: Mavis Staples Performs “Build A Bridge” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

More than enough ink has been spilled throughout Mavis Staples‘ eight decades in music, both as a member of the legendary The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, so I won’t delve into her biography or what other journalists have written about her and her work, because for this post, it’s largely unnecessary; however, whether as a member of The Staple Singers or as a solo artist, Ms. Staples has released some of the most important, influential and beloved songs of the 60s and 70s — and in my book, the woman is a revered, national treasure. 

Unsurprisingly, Staples has seen quite a bit of the past century of American history — including the embittering and dehumanizing prejudice, racism, injustice and violence of the Jim Crow-era South, the Civil Rights era, the hypocrisy and wishy washiness of White moderates, liberals and the Far Left, the elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and yet . . . as the old adage says,  the more things change, the more things remain the same. And while the same hate has always remained, rooted around race, gender, gender expression, sexuality, class, ethnicity and nationality, for the first time in a couple of generations, the discussion of whether or not this country has lived up to its ideals, how we get there — hell, if we’re even willing to sacrifice to get there, have all been forced back into the national consciousness on a insistent basis.  

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site for a while, you’d know that Staples’ latest effort If All I Was Was Black, which was released last November continued her ongoing and critically applauded collaboration with renowned singer/songwriter and producer Jeff Tweedy. And interestingly, the album marked the first time that Tweedy has composed an entire album worth of music specifically for Staples. As the story goes, when Tweedy and Staples convened to write new material, the duo recognized that they were in the middle of a critical, historical moment — and that they felt it necessary to address the current sociopolitical state of things both here in the States and elsewhere. “We’re not loving one another the way we should,” the legendary vocalist says in press notes. “Some people are saying they want to make the world great again, but we never lost our greatness. We just strayed into division.” Tweedy adds, “I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself — that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on.”

Of course, some of the album’s material expresses anger and frustration — after all, how could it not? In some way, Donald Trump’s election back in 2016 felt like the major gains made by Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Asians and the LGBQT communities were going to be completely wiped away. And yet, while rooted around Staples’ legendary and lifelong optimism that optimism is balanced by a healthy pragmatism in which the soul legend seems to say “well shit, there’s quite a bit of hard work, love and empathy that’s needed to get things right.” 

Interestingly, when I heard album title track  “If All I Was Was Black,” I was immediately reminded of Syl Johnson‘s aching and bitter lament “Is It Because I’m Black.” in the sense that Staples’ latest single is an earnest and hopeful plea to the listener, imploring them to look into the heart and souls of every individual they come across, and to see them for their unique abilities; to render one’s skin color as relatively unimportant as the color of one’s eyes. The album’s latest single “Build A Bridge” focuses on the growing sense of alienation, loneliness and misunderstanding of modern life — with Ms. Staples boldly suggesting that many of the world’s problems could be solved if people could allow themselves to be vulnerable and empathetic to the plight of others, so that they can see both the glorious differences in others and the universality of all.  For Ms. Staples sake, I hope we can all try before it’s too late.

Mavis and her backing band have been doing the talk show circuit to promote If All I Was Was Black and it included a Martin Luther King Day appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where they appropriately performed “Build a Bridge.

New Video: Omar Souleyman’s Club Banging and Swooning Love Letter to Istanbul

Omar Souleyman is a Tell Tamer, Syria-born, Istanbul, Turkey-based Sunni Arab vocalist, who can trace the origins of his music career back to 1994, when he was a part-time wedding singer, whose sound has been largely influenced from the incredibly diverse milieu of Northeastern Syria — and a result, Souleyman and a rotating cast of musicians and producers, he has worked with since his early days, draws from and meshes the Kurdish, the Ashuris, the Turks, the Iraqis and Arabic sounds and themes in a way that’s both familiar and absolutely novel; in fact, Souleyman is largely considered the region’s pioneer of dance music/wedding music as his sound is primarily based around, keys and enormous beats. 

Amazingly around 500 studio and live albums have been released under his name with about 80% of those releases being made at weddings,  presented to the newlywed couple, and then copied and sold at local kiosks. Within the last few years, Souleyman has received international attention, performing at some of the world’s biggest stages and festivals including Paredes de Coura, a Caribou co-curated ATP Festival, ATP Nightmare Before Christmas, Bonnaroo, Roskilde Festival, Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival, Pukkelpop Festival, Electric Picnic,  Treefort Music Festival — and oddly enough, one of the strangest House of Vans bills I’ve ever seen, in which he opened for Future Islands. Adding to a growing international profile, Souleyman has collaborated with Bjork, contributing vocals for three remixes, which appear on an Biophilia.

Along with that, Souleyman has released four compilations 2006’s Highway to Hassake, 2009’S Dabke 2020, 2010’s Jazeera Nights, 2011’s Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts and 2011’s Leh Jani and three full-length albums to the West, 2013’s incredible Wenu Wenu, 2015’s Bahdeni Nami and this year’s To Syria, with Love, all of which have brought the sounds and grooves of his region to the Western World. Interestingly, To Syria, with Love reportedly finds Souleyman and his collaborators adopting elements of Western techno and electronic production to his sound, as well as much more intricate keyboard work. 

“Es-Samra,” To Syria, with Love’s latest single is a swooning love letter to his new hometown of Istanbul that features Souleyman’s coolly delivered vocals over a slick and swaggering production consisting of enormous, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, dense layers of arpeggiated keyboard chords, razor sharp and infectious hooks and handclaps to create one of most effortlessly straightforward club bangers I’ve heard in several months. 

While furthering his reputation for paring his sounds with DIY-like visuals, the recently released video for “Es-Samra” captures and evokes daily life in and around his adopted hometown’s waterways but with a trippy, mind melting visual effect. And as New Yorker, there’s something warmly familiar in seeing fisherman near a pier, of commuters rushing back and forth by ferry, car, bus and truck; but more important, it shows Istanbul as one of the world’s most glorious sights.