musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

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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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Introducing… The Northeastern Railroads

NortheasternRailroads

With all the heavy shit going on in the world right now, sometimes you just need to zone out with some pleasant dream pop. So, if you’re feeling rather overwhelmed and yearning for simpler times, The Northeastern Railroads can help you out. This shoegazy goodness is courtesy of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Tony Moureilles. He has just released his debut album, quite aptly named Hope, which is something we could definitely use more of. The first single is “Wet Streets Before Dawn.”

The album was engineered, mixed and mastered by Ian Van Opijnen, who previously worked with Boston’s Funeral Advantage. He and Moureilles shared producer duties. As for the album cover, I’m not so sure that a half empty beer glass is the best illustration of “hope,” but keep in mind that this is, after all, a Boston band. Maybe that glass is actually half full? Nah.

The Northeastern Railroads had their premiere in January of last year. Their musical inspiration comes from bands like The Radio Dept., Slowdive, Ride and The National.

You’ll find Hope here (sorry, couldn’t resist). The limited edition CD includes lyrics and notes. If you’re in the Boston area and would like to catch the band live (Moureilles has a few friends who join him for shows), they’ll be in the following places:

​Saturday, April 22, 2017 – Out of the Blue Gallery, Cambridge, MA
Saturday, April 29, 2017 – East Coast Block Party in Lawrence, MA
​Sunday, April 30, 2017 – The Plough and Stars, Cambridge, MA
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 – PA’s Lounge, Cambridge, MA

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Emay releases Ilah and the video for Bakkah: The History of Humankind

Emay

Last year, we introduced you to the powerful social commentary of Emay (Mubarik Adams), a hip-hop and experimental artist from Ontario, Canada. His new album, just released, is Ilah (on Star Slinger’s Jet Jam label). It picks up from where lead single “Israfil ‘angels trumpet'” left off — trying to make sense of a senseless world, envisioning a society where one can be the master of one’s destiny and not a victim of circumstance. In other words, it’s about life. His breathless prose is startling in its literary prowess and poetic deliverance. Phrases twirl around the musical accompaniment like beautifully twisting vines. They rise elegantly from the rich compost of hypnotic beats, experimental soundscapes and otherworldly voices, woven together like a timeless tapestry. The listener is alternately drawn into the depths of aural seduction and then popped awake with a powerful metaphor or turn of phrase.

“As a son, I inherited heavy talismans.
Pallid, invalid purposes. Set for the many challenges.
Studied what He told us and parroted many passages,
Only to duck embarrassment – Barren of any sacrilege.
Required to wear tradition as a blindfold.
Only admire, never petition when a lie is told.”
– Son

“The History of Humankind” is exactly that — a modern chronicle of civilization, with a sharp eye and piercing perception. As he catalogues humankind’s accomplishments and failures with adept precision in an abandoned gas station, an urban soldier in riot gear performs fragmented krumping like an alien sign language.

“To me the video is a battle displaying my ideological development and the conflict of ideas taking over and building off of one another. Much love to Aaron Hall and Dujean Williams for creating that with me. My beliefs and ideas about the world are constantly evolving and developing; this isn’t an overnight process, but one that takes a decade or maybe even a lifetime.” – Emay

Consider distilling the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Noam Chomsky, Dostoevsky, Lenin, Kwame Nkrumah plus the writings of the Quran into a rap/hip-hop album, and you’ll begin to comprehend the headiness and ambition of a work like this. An interview Adams gave to The Paper Street Journal delves into his inspiration, from religious texts to political leaders to grassroots social movements. He offers up no answers, just an avalanche of questions and the intense desire to stimulate dialogue.

“My goal for this project was to depict the progression of my ideological development as a child up until now as an adult. My main focus being to depict how one’s experiences directly influences one’s ideas about the world.” – Emay

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Introducing… Singer Soldier

Singer Soldier

“Bones to Ashes” comes from the second Singer Soldier album, Illusions of Stability. It is a song of fragile beauty, beginning with softly strummed acoustic guitar and delicately floating male/female vocals. Chiming guitars and steady, purposeful percussion follow, as the story is told of a haunted soul (“When I close my eyes, I pray to god I will survive”). From snippets of lyrics like “time to move on, time to be strong,” one surmises this is about a failed relationship, but it’s a pretty song that sparkles with determination and hope. Toward the end, the guitars melt into a hypnotic electronic trance, perhaps signaling a “moving on” of sorts.

 

Singer Soldier is the alternative country project of Nick Marko, a multi-instrumentalist from Detroit, Michigan, who has played guitar, drums and piano for bands like Gutwrench (his first band), The Holy Fire (produced by Flaming Lips bassist Michael Ivins), Leaving Rouge, Singer & Soldier and Levagood. With The Holy Fire, he’s performed on bills with bands such as TV on the Radio, Metric and the Constantines. Marko is also a savvy entrepreneur with his music publishing company ALP Music. His eclectic background includes studying fire science in school and working as a roofer in Texas and as a cook in Santa Monica, California, before focusing on his music full-time. His influences are diverse, from Bob Mould and other indie rock to hardcore punk, thrash and hip-hop. Favorites include Pixies, Ramones, Hüsker Dü, Motörhead, Metallica, Misfits and Public Enemy.

Illusions of Stability features luscious instrumentation — piano, drums, bassoon, violin, cello and mandolin, in addition to guitars. This is certainly not your standard “alt country” music, weaving artfully between alternative rock, alt folk, classical and electronic.

web | bandcamp | youtube | reverbnation | purchase at CDBaby

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Holly Miranda and Friends Record Midnight Oil, for Standing Rock

Midnight Oil - for Standing Rock

This beautifully uplifting song, “Midnight Oil,” was originally written in 1978 by Cris Williamson, an American singer-songwriter and political activist. Fast-forward almost 40 years, and the song is stumbled upon by Detroit-born musician Holly Miranda at an upstate New York record store, just a few days after the Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting. Deeply moved by the song and its message of hope, she decides to record it.

“Don’t let the midnight oil burn low, no don’t let it burn out, let’s see how things turn out in the end.” – Midnight Oil

Miranda learns more about Williamson — that she was a teacher who became an underground folk legend, feminist and activist, founding Olivia Records, the first female-owned and female-focused record label. As the new version of the song came together, with accompanying musicians and The New Asylum Choir, the two women got together to find a worthy cause to dedicate this powerful anthem to. They chose Standing Rock, because of the ongoing need to stop the Dakota pipeline and the importance of safe drinking water, which is about as basic as it gets.

Holly Miranda and Cris Williamson ~ photo by Irene Young

Holly Miranda and Cris Williamson ~ photo by Irene Young

“Midnight Oil” can be purchased at CDBaby, with all proceeds going directly to Standing Rock and the North Dakota Sioux Tribe. A huge assortment of talented musicians volunteered their time and talents to show their support and make this song a reality. This includes Ani DiFranco, Saturday Night Live’s Sasheer Zamata, Jaime King, Kyp Malone (TV On The Radio) and actress Natalie Morales (Parks and Recreation, The Grinder).

Musicians:
Garrett Lewis – Piano
Josh Werner – Bass
Jared Samuel – Mellotron
Jon Ulman – Drums
Maria Eisen – Bari Sax
Ginger Dolden – Violin
Pete Lanctot – Violin
Holly Miranda – Vocal

The New Asylum Choir:
Jared Samuel
Garrett Lewis
Stevie Weinstein-foner
Sasheer Zamata
Ani Difranco
Kyp Malone
Jesse Smith
Nico Turner
Lizz Winstead
Natalie Morales
Laurel Sprenglemeyer
Joan Wasser
Ambrosia Parsley
Ximenia Sarinana
Sally Kohn
Gracie Coates
Rachel Ruggles
Sharon Sulami
Jenny Wade
Cyrina Fiallo
Marnie Herald
Simone van Seenus
Trish Bendix
Jen Rosenstien
Lacey Story
Meg Ghiroli
Jaime King
Libby King

As it stands now, the fight for indigenous peoples’ rights and the universal right to clean drinking water unfortunately seems to be far from over. Take a stand by supporting this important cause and enjoying some fine music at the same time.

Standing Rock: web | facebook | tumblr

Holly Miranda: web | facebook | twitter

PURCHASE “MIDNIGHT FOR OIL” TO BENEFIT STANDING ROCK

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Sun Blood Stories and their Strange New Journey

Sun Blood Stories

We first introduced you to the cosmic sounds of Boise-based Sun Blood Stories back in 2015. Their music should warm the heart of anyone with a special fondness for ’70s spacey prog rock. We’re pleased to announce their upcoming (third) album, It Runs Around the Room with Us, which is due out on April 21. If you’re not afraid to lose your mind for about six minutes, feast your eyes and ears on the first single, “Great Destroyer.” This mind-melting video is by Jason Sievers.

The new album begins as an ocean odyssey, drifting along in mysterious waters, as one can feel oneself being slowly engulfed by subconscious thoughts and distant memories. There are languid contemplations like “Step Softly Ghost” that gradually build to epic proportions, with tribal rhythms ushering in wailing guitars, keyboards and other less familiar sounds. Gentle human voices offer calming and a tether to the shore amidst a maelstrom of aural exploration. At times peacefully drifting, at other times violently shrieking, It Runs Around the Room with Us stretches to the farthest reaches of the imagination and then says farewell, to venture out to explore new galaxies. The musical environment is otherworldly. Some of the songs become quite intense (most especially the aptly named “Burn” and the closer, “The Enemy”). What begins as a friendly and comforting choral gathering is infiltrated by swearing belligerence. It’s a strange yet enjoyable ride.

It Runs Around the Room with Us can be preordered on Bandcamp. It will be available on vinyl, cassette and compact disk, in addition to digital download.

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Introducing… Sarah Beatty (and Belle Starr)

Sarah Beatty

In her new album Bandit Queen, Sarah Beatty tells the story of 19th-century American outlaw Belle Starr, who provided the inspiration for this sultry new music. By all accounts, Ms. Starr was one tough lady, convicted as a horse thief in 1883 and shot dead under mysterious circumstances in 1889. She’s pictured in her Wikipedia entry wearing long skirts and holding a revolver. This title track, the lead single from Beatty’s upcoming album, conveys an appropriate mood of danger and moxie.

Based in Hamilton, Canada, Beatty’s debut album, Black Gramophone, was released in 2012. Her style is a smooth blend of folk music and country with touches of jazz. Her delivery is bluesy, soulful and a bit wicked. You can hear the devilish gleam in her eye. On the new album, she’s joined by co-conspirators Matty Simpson on electric guitar and Justine Fischer on upright bass (both are from The Fred Eaglesmith Band), plus Dave Clark (Rheostatics, The Woodshed Orchestra) on drums.

Beatty’s mission on Bandit Queen, and in particular on this first single, is to help listeners discover their own “inner outlaw” and to share the historical account of a woman who was both powerful and flawed. It’s the kind of story not frequently told about women, even now. As she explains it, “I wanted to invite the dark parts into the storyline and inspire listeners to be their whole, real, bodacious, outlawed selves.”

Bandit Queen can be ordered on iTunes.

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On Making the Unknown Known

Alone with Friends

J. Stoller

Alone in the company of friends. These are strange times. I’m ashamed of the weariness I feel, worried by the emptiness and the confusion. I find I’m forcing myself to make smalltalk, feeling like a fraud as I do so. Bereft of what was once familiar, I wander around the ornate rooms as conversation swirls around me. But maybe that’s exactly the point and what must necessarily come before progress?

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing — and keeping the unknown always beyond you.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

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Clinging To What No Longer Serves

Clinging to an old blanket

by J. Stoller

In times of trouble, people cling to the mundane and to the familiar company of family and friends. They gravitate to comfortable surroundings, to deeply-entrenched ideas and attitudes. They hold on tightly to old and tattered possessions to which they are accustomed, even if these objects no longer serve a purpose.

When feeling challenged and under siege, people will embrace what they already believe to be true, speaking in the same language, however tired or inappropriate for the new situation at hand.

Surrounding oneself with the theatrical props of stability is not the same as feeling stable, safe and secure in your heart. What is needed is a paradigm shift.

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What if… What then?

What if, just like MySpace, Twitter suddenly changed their code or shut down completely, and all of those clever things you thought up, all the people who “liked” you and made you an internet sensation for 24 hours, all of that disappeared into the ether. Erased from Earth’s fragile history, you’re left alone in your basement room, with your dusty books and hardened mind, while the real people you shut out of your life have drifted away to find more satisfying conversation and a more reciprocal love. What then?

These are false communications, as transient as a Tibetan sand mandala. But unlike the mandala, whose essense remains in the collective unconscious, your clever thoughts, in the morning light? No one will remember them.

Indeed, we are all fleeting, we are all grains of sand, though we disappear without a trace or our essence remains based upon the decisions we make — whether to truly communicate, or to build an emotional wall.

As you slowly discover that the old proverb is true, you reap what you sow, betray and betrayal, abandon and abandonment, disregard and disregarded — What now?

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