Today I spent a lovely afternoon at Stern Grove, soaking up some much-needed sunshine and supa fresh music. For non-locals, Stern Grove is a park in San Francisco where free concerts are held every weekend during the summer (great deal, right?). Usually you can expect the weather to be cold and foggy, because that’s just what it’s like all the time around here. But today was gloriously hot, perfect for laying out a blanket and eating cherries until your stomach hurts and your feet are on fire from the sun (I’m a true San Franciscan now; apparently direct sunlight makes me melt).

The concerts are held in the “recreation grove” which is half picnic area, half magical pixie forest. See photo below for proof.

That is a homemade funfetti cupcake. A magical treat for a magical afternoon.
That is a funfetti cupcake. As if the day wasn’t awesome enough already.

The sound gets pretty eaten up by the time it gets through all the trees, but the nice thing is you can always venture down to the front and find a spot up close, which is what we did later.

Today’s performers were Dakha Brakha and Tune-Yards (tUnE-yArDs). Although the former is from Kiev, Ukraine and the latter is from Oakland, I can see why these two acts were booked together. They are linked by really amazing, unique vocalists and lots of percussion, although they use these things in very different ways.

Dakha Brakha was up first. I’d seen a video of them online but that was only one sample of what turned out to be a very diverse set. I am in love with their tight harmonies and visual energy (and also those hats).

Kinda wish I’d gone up closer to really watch what they were doing. Come back to the Bay Area soon, Dakha Brakha!

And then Tune-Yards came out and brought the house (grove?) down. We watched the second half of the set from the side lawn, surrounded by dogs and dancing babies and guys who looked like Jason Mraz (ok, maybe there was just one of each of those). It’s a bummer that the below video cuts off abruptly, but I chose it because the lineup and vibe are closest to what they were at today’s show. There are a lot of YouTube videos where the background riff in the beginning is played by saxophones, but the vocal hocketing version is so cool! (Ethnomusicology majors love hocketing.)

For more about Stern Grove and the current season (this has been going on for 78 years!), click here.

Record store finds

Last weekend our local record store Freakbeat Records had a massive sale, and I picked up some serious goods. For $5 I got the film Shine A Light (AWESOME live footage of the Rolling Stones, directed by Martin Scorsese), and for another $5 I got an LP of Ustad Vilayat Khan-Sahib and Imrat Khan-Sahib, circa 1967:

Brief(?) explanation of why this is so important to me: Vilayat Khan is one of the greatest sitarists in history, part of a musical dynasty that dates back to the 16th century (he is also my sitar teacher’s father, so in a way I am a very small branch of this incredible gharana whose members I have nothing but the greatest respect for). Vilayat Khan-Sahib’s brother Imrat Khan is one of the last great masters of surbahar, or bass sitar, an instrument that has largely died out in the past few decades. It’s already hard to find decent recordings of surbahar, which is a fascinating instrument to me…but it’s even harder to find recordings of Vilayat and Imrat Khan playing together, because they had a huge falling out and didn’t speak to each other for years. So not only is it a rare recording, it’s even more rare on vinyl (I’ve looked it up and found a few CD versions and downloads, but only two LPs on eBay, selling for about $50). Thanks to Freakbeat, I got it for 5 bucks, and who knows if I ever would have found it again!

Some videos:

Vilayat Khan (center) and Hidayat Khan performing Rageshree. So fun to watch Vijay Ghate, I love his expressions! Also, this is the rag I’m currently learning, so I was really excited to find this. :)

Imrat Khan, surbahar. Video quality isn’t that great, but a beautiful performance!

You’ll see the sun come shining through

I feel like I’ve mentioned this song so many times, but what can I say, I love it and so many of my favorite artists have covered it. I was (very) pleasantly surprised to find a version of the Chaplin song “Smile” performed by the Brazilian bloco afro Olodum, complete with tight beats and cheesy synth strings! Check it:

I’ve really been hyping the Brazilian stuff lately. It’s just so fun to play, and listen to. And I love when two of my favorite things are combined. :)

A couple of other things:
-One of the many upcoming things that I cannot wait for: a George Harrison documentary produced by Martin Scorsese? Win.

-I just found out that Dennis Hopper has passed away. :( So long to one of the 60s’ greatest icons…

Cool Instruments, Pt. 2

These are some of the instruments I’ve been exposed to recently. I realized that I’d heard them many times, but never knew what they looked like or how they are played. Anyway, check them out!

The kora is a stringed West African instrument that sounds like a mix between a classical guitar and a harp. We had a guest lecturer come into class and give us a mini concert, and I totally fell in love with the instrument. It’s so beautiful!

I have lots more of these cool instruments posts lined up, but trying to space them out a bit so that non-Ethno people don’t get too bored, haha. Until next time!

trepidation, speculation

So I’m in the Brazilian drum ensemble at UCLA, also called BatUCLAda, and for the spring concert we are doing a cover of this:

The drummers in this video are a part of the Brazilian bloco afro Olodum (who also played on Paul Simon’s album Rhythm of the Saints, including my favorite The Obvious Child!). Basically all the rhythms, songs, and choreography we do in BatUCLAda are from Olodum, so I’ve become really familiar with them, haha. Check out BatUCLAda videos here!

Additional note: Our arrangement is also going to include No Woman No Cry, complete with Portuguese lyrics. It’s gonna be rockin. The concert is in May…this is an early reminder! :)

El Cascabel

So today in my Chicano/a music class (yes, I am really taking that, don’t laugh!), we listened to the following song:

Immediately I recognized it (particularly the string theme at 0:15), but couldn’t for the life of me remember why. How would I possibly know this song, a traditional son jarocho from Veracruz? I had it stuck in my head all day and absolutely could not figure it out. THEN, about five minutes ago, I realized what I knew it from…

HAHA. Back in high school, Kenny Day got the great idea of doing a DDR-themed winter drumline show. As a result, he sent me several DDR songs (this one included) to arrange for pit. I don’t think I got very far, but I definitely remember attempting it. I wish I still had the arrangements!

Anyway, I was just really excited I finally remembered what it was from. Also in class, we listened to La Bamba, yay! That song brings back so many memories…namely K-Earth 101 playing in the background of my mom’s consignment shop when I was 5 years old. But I also realized I’ve always listened to the Los Lobos version thinking it was the original. Fail.

Anyway, back to studying. Chicano/a music basically just reminds me of home, and we all know how fun it is having Vista pride, haha. BEEESTUHHHH!

Wah! Kya baat hai!

Last night I went to see Shujaat Khan and Abhiman Kaushal (my sitar and tabla teachers) perform at Occidental College. They were also joined by Miles Shrewsbery, one of Abhimanji’s students. It was more amazing than I can describe in words…I am just in love with this music. And I love going to concerts because everyone is so moved by the music, and there is such great audience and performer interaction. Khan-Sahib played a piece in Kirvani, the raag we are currently studying, and at certain times he’d wink at us and play bits of the themes he’s been teaching in class. It’s so cool to know that what we are learning is being performed by a master in concert. He ended with a piece in Pahaadi, which was beautiful. You can see a video of my two teachers playing Pahaadi below.

I remember the first time I went to an Indian concert; it was to see Nishat Khan at Royce Hall my freshman year at UCLA. Back then I didn’t know anything about sitar besides what I’d heard in Beatles songs, but my friend Sonali was nice enough to take me and explain some of the basics of raag and tal so I wasn’t completely lost. I remember thinking it was really weird how the musicians kept shaking their heads as if something was wrong during the performance, and Sonali had to tell me that that’s how they get into the music. At the time I thought it was really weird, but now I’m one of those people in the audience shaking their head and keeping tal…I don’t even do it consciously, it’s just like second nature. I guess I’ve been to a lot of Indian music concerts since then, haha.