musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: April 2017

Sara Forslund, Lárus Sigurðsson and David Åhlén’s Poems of Despair

Poems of Despair

This breathtaking music that goes by the title Songs of Despair, a collaboration of Swedish artists Sara Forslund (Birch and Meadow), Lárus Sigurðsson (composer, arranger, musician, musical instrument maker and artist) and musician David Åhlén, began as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem by Åhlén and artist Samuel Sander. Sander had the desire to create an artbook based on the biblical Book of Lamentations. The story is of the destruction of a city and a holy temple, and the despair of the inhabitants left in its ruins. It is also a story of people in exile in a foreign land. The project became a series of art pieces and later, this mournful, melancholy collection of songs, delicately and powerfully brought to life by world-class artists.

“Death is my hope.
But my thoughts of it
strike me with fear.

I thought I believed.
In life, love.
In some kind of god.”

– The Meaning, from Poems of Despair

The exploration began with a five-day visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall during Tisha B’av. This inspired audio and visual sketches that culminated in an art exhibit in Sweden. From that auspicious beginning came a collaboration with priest, psychotherapist and poet Bengt Thurfjell, who then penned the collection, Poems of Despair. In 2015, Åhlén began setting these poems to music, and was soon joined by Forslund and Sigurðsson.

This stunning album was recorded in different studios in Iceland and Stockholm, and mixed by Lárus and Birgir Jón Birgisson (Sigur Rós’s studio engineer) in Sundlaugin studio, Reykjavik. It is the first release by fledgling Gotlandic label Kaip.

poems of despair – bandcamp | poems of despair on spotify | Sara Forslund | Lárus Sigurðsson | David Åhlén | the book of lamentations art book | kaip musik

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Letter from a Jilted Lover

Letter from a Jilted Lover

Dear Beloved,

This is very difficult for me to write, but it’s extremely important that I do so. I have tried to be patient. I offered my gifts to you freely, as a lover does, and all I expected in return was that you would respect me and treat me well. But something sinister has come between us that threatens to rip us violently from our warm embrace. Read more >>

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The Twins

Drawing based on a photograph by Alaa Alyousef via AP

Drawing based on a photograph by Alaa Alyousef via AP

It was the photograph, really. There is always a defining moment when an awful situation reaches its apex. In this case, it was the image of the grieving Syrian father and his 9-month-old twins. He holds the eternally sleeping, dead from poisonous gas babies for the cameras, for the world to see, as if to say “See? See what our world has come to?”

And we did see. In one crystal clear, revolting moment, we were spun once again into a darkened dystopia. It is a reality seen in harrowing fiction like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” where our humanity is reduced to pushing around a shopping cart in a barren world, trying desperately to pull scraps of food and hope from the embers. Read more >>

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Introducing Tunisian singer-songwriter and activist Emel

Emel Mathlouthi

Photo: Alex + Iggy

Tunisian musician Emel Mathlouthi, known as Emel, is a visceral artist who prefers that you connect with her music on a purely emotional level, rather than study it in depth. But it is nearly impossible not to want to translate and analyze her Arabic words, once you know her story. With her unique blend of traditional Tunisian acoustic music, electronic beats and fiercely independent lyrics, her work gained widespread recognition after she recorded “Kelmti Horra (My Word Is Free)” in 2007 and it became an anthem of the Arab Spring. She found herself being called “the voice of the Tunisian revolution” and was invited to perform at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

On Ensen, her second album, she incorporates diverse musical styles, with influences such as Joan Baez, Massive Attack, Björk and Egyptian protest singer Sheikh Imam. The album, released in February on Little Human / Partisan Records, was recorded across seven countries on two continents with several producers. This included her primary collaborator, French/Tunisian producer Amine Metani and Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Sigur Ros). The music has an expansive, cinematic feel that accompanies Emel’s powerful, heartfelt vocals.

Here is the official video for “Ensen Dhaif (Human, Helpless Human).”

Emel Mathlouthi now lives in New York, where she relocated after living for a while in Paris. In 2008 during the rule of Ben Ali, she was forced to move from Tunisia after her music was banned for her messages about personal freedom and government corruption. Her debut album Kelmti Horra was released on World Village in France in 2012. NPR covered her music in 2013, in a piece called “Emel Mathlouthi: Voice Of The Tunisian Revolution,” and fellow Tunisian singer and composer MC Rai said, “She has so much courage to sing that around that time. When the dictators in Tunisia, the old regime, were in the top of their power — and for her to even have the courage to sing that, when she was living still between France and Tunisia — I thought she really was a true artist, because that’s what the art is about.” Four years later, her music was once again at the center of a grassroots uprising, as she sang “Kelmti Horra” in the streets of Tunisia, hours before Ben Ali fled the country. Here are the lyrics, translated from Arabic.

You can learn much more about Emel Mathlouthi’s life, music and inspiration from an in-depth Pitchfork interview.

Emel is currently in Europe on tour, and she’ll be performing a string of dates across the U.S. beginning on May 3 in Washington, DC. See the list of shows below. Her new album can be purchased from Partisan Records (CD, vinyl or digital) or on iTunes.

5/03/2017 – Washington, DC – DC9
5/04/2017 – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live
5/05/2017 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
5/06/2017 – New York, NY – (Le) Poisson Rouge
5/09/2017 – Evanston, IL – Evanston SPACE
5/10/2017 – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center
5/13/2017 – Seattle, WA – Seattle Meany Center
5/14/2017 – Vancouver, BC – The Rio Theatre
5/15/2017 – Portland, OR – Newmark Theatre
5/16/2017 – San Francisco, CA – Swedish American Hall
5/17/2017 – Los Angeles, CA – Echo

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Introducing… Nano Stern

Nano Stern

If this year has a “global theme,” then it most certainly has to be the issue of immigration. Nearly every day we hear of the struggles that so many people face when trying to flee war-torn regions or hopeless economic conditions for a better life for themselves and their families. The world’s artists who speak out against injustices and celebrate our planet’s diversity are providing an essential public service, especially in our troubling times of rising xenophobia and nationalism.

Nano Stern is one such artist who uses music to celebrate diversity and denounce intolerance. An internationally recognized Chilean human rights activist, poet and folk rock artist, Stern recently released “Festejo de Color” (“Festival of Color”), from his recent album Mil 500 Vueltas. In this beautiful and timely song, he addresses the subject of migration and speaks of the mixing of different cultures in a far more positive light than current news stories.

(see an English translation of the Spanish lyrics, courtesy of Google Translate)

The song was written as a tribute to his grandparents, who had to flee Eastern Europe during World War II. What began as a personal story became a recognition for the journey of all migrants, as they overcame challenges and celebrated their new lives in their adopted homes. Issues of intolerance and nationalism are pushed away in favor of the colorful mixing of races, cultures and ethnicities. Fastejo is both the Spanish word for “festival” and an Afro-Peruvian music and dance that the song is based on. In the song, you’ll also hear traditional rhythms from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

In writing “Festejo de Color,” Stern used décima, which is improvised poetry from Spain and Portugal that dates back to the 17th century. This form of poetry was first introduced by Chilean singer/songwriter Violeta Parra, but Stern is one of very few artists who are using this ancient form. On the album version, he’s joined by Peruvian Festejo legend Susana Baca and celebrated Argentine and Columbian musicians Pedro Aznar and Marta Gomez. These three musical guests represent the most common origins for immigrants moving to Chile, so this song really “walks the talk” of bringing disparate cultures together to form a single voice.

In this KKUP interview, Stern discusses the personal meaning behind the song.

As the grandson of Jewish refugees who fled persecution to resettle in Chile, Stern’s upbringing is rooted in his own family’s musicial traditions and activism as well as the highly influential Nueva Canción movement, which was spearheaded by Chilean musical activists as a protest to Pinochet’s dictatorship. Those who suffered at the hands of this oppressive regime still inspires Stern’s artistic vision. At 15, he joined Chilean underground band Mattoral, which added the South American rock and punk tradition to the mix that included jazz and classical elements along with folk traditions. This results in a powerful stew of indigenous Chilean, European and African musical languages.

Stern’s many admirers includes Joan Baez, who said “[Nano] may be the best young Chilean songwriter of his generation. With his lyrics, melodies, message, delivery, humor and heart, he gets my vote.” And in fact, he was the only Latin artist to be invited to perform with her at the Beacon Theater in New York City for her 75th birthday celebration, which was aired nationally last year.

“In the measure that I’m able to vibrate strongly, other people will resonate. If that frequency is intense, other things around it will vibrate together with it. Music in the end is that. We can put aside words, and genre, and tradition. In the end, it is all about a movement of air that makes our bodies move. It’s the most mysterious thing.” – Nano Stern

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